Chris Jones out to make a name

He thought it was cool until Johnson intervened, and handed him a basketball. Jones had been playing for years, but the structured version of the sport showed Jones a whole new world of possibilities -- college and a career, a paycheck and a future.

He wanted all of it. Mostly, though, he craved to be the best.

So one day Johnson showed him the best.

By then Jackson, a high school sophomore, already was on the road that would lead him to Memphis glory, so popular that high school gyms would fill up in minutes when he played.

Johnson knew Jackson played every day around 2. He called and asked Jackson's AAU coach if he could bring his feisty point guard over for a game of one-on-one.

"I didn't know anything about Chris Jones when he came to the gym," Jackson said. "We went at it. We got to arguing a little bit in that game. That's why I respected him. I liked his toughness."

Jackson knew that toughness, knew it firsthand. Jones and Jackson really aren't much different. Jackson, too, grew up in Orange Mound, the son of a single mother who struggled to make ends meet. He, like Jones, got a lift from someone else -- in his case, his maternal grandmother, Lillie Cox.

She took him in when he was middle school, raised him and made sure he stayed on the basketball courts -- even if it was in the wee hours -- instead of the streets.

So Jones, all spitfire and attitude when he walked into that gym, wasn't entirely unfamiliar to the more polished Jackson. Except at that point, Jones was only spitfire and attitude.

He was set up to fail.

"He got back in my truck, crying, all snotty-nosed and ready for a fight," Johnson said. "I told him, 'You work hard and he'll get the last cry.'"


Not long after that first game, word got back to Jackson that the anonymous, snotty-nosed kid was getting better.

"I heard a lot. You hear a lot in the city," Jackson said. "There was always something with Chris, not from him but from other people. People always talking about him, what he was doing. It didn't bother me. You just play basketball."

They would play five times during high school and Melrose would win four, none bigger than the 2010 state championship game.

Melrose won 75-70, with Jones scoring 35 to lift both the state title and the MVP trophy.

"They were always great games. Melrose had stacked teams. Stacked," Jackson said. "It was never a one-on-one thing. They had a lot of guys that transferred in there. They were pumped to play me, too. They were triple-teaming me, totally denying the ball. Their coach, he was my first AAU coach. I think a lot of people wanted to prove something."

Melrose did, and Jones did, and still.

Still, Memphis held back.

"Everyone thought I wasn't on his level," Jones said. "I'd say it took until the fourth time where people said, 'OK, maybe Chris is for real.'"

Just when the chatter finally started, when respect seemed close at hand, Jones' career went off the tracks. While Jackson moved on to the University of Memphis, Jones headed to Oak Ridge, a military academy in North Carolina, for his senior year.

By January he was back in Memphis, booted from Oak Ridge. The short-fused Jones had, Johnson said, "one of his temper tantrums, and they don't tolerate that at a military school," earning him a one-way ticket home.

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