Chris Jones out to make a name

It was too late to play basketball, so Jones simply re-enrolled at Melrose, took classes and graduated. By then he was committed to Tennessee, not quite hometown Memphis but still the beloved state school. It was a good choice, out from under the thumb of his hometown but close enough that word of his success would travel.

And then the bottom fell out again; actually, it fell out twice. Bruce Pearl was fired amid an NCAA scandal and Jones failed to qualify academically.

While his old friends went off to the bright lights -- Thomas to Memphis, former AAU teammate Austin Hollins to Minnesota and, of course, Jackson to his second year at Memphis -- Jones ended up at Northwest Florida State College, a junior college in Niceville, Fla. Junior college will humble even the proudest athlete. Chartered-flight visions become bus-ride realities. No one is really there by choice. There is always something -- academics, temperament, ability -- that has to be repaired.

This wasn't the path Jones imagined, certainly wasn't the one he preferred, but it wound up being the best move of Jones' life.

At Northwest Florida, he played for Steve Forbes, the former Volunteers assistant also scarred by Pearl's shrapnel. Forbes had known Jones for years. He knew how he had cooled in Jackson's shadow, knew how it fueled him. But he also knew Jones' passion could be his undoing.

"He's the most highly competitive person I've ever coached. Ever," Forbes said. "It can be his biggest strength and his biggest weakness. He will fight every fight."

Maybe it was all the pent-up frustration from trying to win over Memphis and best Jackson. Or maybe it was all those nights next to a pit bull.

"It's like his meanness rubbed off on him," Johnson joked.

Whatever it was, Jones' temper had become his calling card as much as his skill. He'd get ticked at the smallest of transgressions, blowing up over an obvious foul call, steaming at his teammates when they didn't play up to par.

"I always told him, it's about your character, what's in you," Johnson said. "I remember one teacher telling him he'd never amount to anything and I challenged him. Is she right? That's what he had to figure out."

What Forbes didn't coach out of him, the reality of a last chance via juco did. Jones changed. Matured? Yes, but changed more. He became a playmaker on top of a scorer, a teammate instead of a dictator.

He twice led Northwest Florida to the national championship game and, as a sophomore, earned national player of the year honors.

Suddenly the player who felt like he would never get his was being courted by Kansas and Louisville.

He chose Louisville, where the Cardinals desperately needed him. Rick Pitino returned a stocked roster from his national championship team save one critical piece -- point guard Peyton Siva.

Pitino knew what he was getting. Jones wasn't Siva.

His former assistant, Steve Masiello, almost begged him not to recruit Jones -- "Don't even write him a letter is what he told me," Pitino said -- but Pitino liked what he saw and what he didn't like, he could fix.

"Chris has a competitive disorder, to put it kindly," he said. "How do you stop it? You keep blowing the whistle and calling fouls in practice. He'll get the message."

And for the most part, Jones has. There are still flare-ups, but on a soap opera team, Jones has been remarkably stable.

"He stepped out of the shadows and made a name for himself," Forbes said.

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