Apples Jones is the first to admit that she hasn’t treated the college recruitment of her high school basketball star son, Josh Jackson, like most parents in her place.
That’s by design, and it’s both a result of her own basketball career and a reflection of a current recruiting landscape that she sees as less than desirable.
Jackson — a 6-foot-8 multi-positional player now in his senior season for Prolific Prep in Napa, Calif. — is considered the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2016, which boasts as talented a group of prospects as any in recent years.
Yet, until recently, not a whole lot was known about Jackson’s college recruitment.
For various reasons, that’s the way his mother wanted it.
Jones was a standout basketball player herself at King High School in Detroit and, while she had more than enough on-court talent to earn a Division I scholarship, she hadn’t applied herself in the classroom and didn’t have the grades to take that step once her high school career ended.
“I wasn’t aware of how basketball and academics went hand in hand,” Jones said. “That wasn’t what was practiced (at my school). If I would have known, I could have made some better choices.”
She ended up at Allen County Community College in Iola, Kan., and the situation there was pretty much the same. Jones excelled on the basketball court while coasting through her academic work — doing just enough to get by but not applying herself to any great degree.
Still, her grades were good enough to move on to a Division I school for her junior year, and she signed with the University of Texas-El Paso.
“That’s where I had my rude awakening,” she said.
Jones said she rarely went to class, assuming she would get by like she had in the past, and her first report card at UTEP consisted of several F’s and one B. That landed her on the academic probation list for the rest of the school year.
Her results on the court were just the opposite.
Jones led the Miners with 15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game and was a first-team All-Western Athletic Conference selection. It was UTEP’s most successful season to that point, and Jones’ scoring total that year still ranks as the fourth-highest in the program’s history.
After the season, Miners Coach Sandra Rushing praised Jones as a player who could play any position and noted that her “desire to win is contagious to all the other players.”
Jones had worked harder in the classroom during her second semester, too, and she was eager for one more season with the team.
It turned out, she hadn’t done enough to make that happen.
Jones was ruled academically ineligible for the following season — what would have been her senior year — and did not return to UTEP in the fall.
From there, she joined the Navy and trained to be a parachute rigger while playing for the branch basketball team for part of the year. She left the Navy when she became pregnant with Josh, and she had one last stab at basketball shortly after that.
Jones advanced through a WNBA tryout — the league was in its fledgling stages then — and ended up with an invitation to camp with the Washington Mystics. Ultimately, she felt she couldn’t raise a family and keep her basketball dreams alive at the same time, so she returned home to Michigan and started work there.
In the meantime, she coached youth basketball and turned her attention to shepherding her son’s burgeoning basketball career.
On the court, Jones preached the fundamentals.
“I never let him do anything wrong. I always corrected him,” she said. “And I always stressed defense. When I taught Josh, I taught him how to dribble and defend. That’s all we really worked on. And then, some of the other stuff, he picked up on his own.
“If a kid knows how to dribble, everything else comes easy. And if you can play defense, more likely than not, you will be on the court. It starts with defense.”
Off the court, Jones said she and her husband encouraged Josh to have interests outside of basketball. And Jones used her personal experience to make sure that her son was doing what he was supposed to in the classroom.
“Raising Josh, I already knew that he wasn’t going to go through what I went through,” she said.
By the time he was a freshman in high school, Jackson was considered by some to be the most talented player in his class. Plenty of people began to take notice.
Jones said she watched with disbelief as coaches, reporters and others approached her son at events. She thought it was too much attention for a kid so young, and she said she tried her best to shield him from it.
“I just listened to everybody who wanted to get their hands on him. I didn’t know who these people were,” she said. “I wasn’t aware of how it normally works. I didn’t have a clue of how it was supposed to go. My thing was, he’s a kid. And he should be allowed to be a kid.”
Jones said she noticed other things while traveling with her son to various basketball stops around the country. One, she didn’t think there were enough parents accompanying their kids on such trips. Two, that left the door open for others to step in on their behalf.
Now, she’s trying to change that.
Jones’ grand plan is to form a foundation that acts as a resource for the parents of young basketball players who are looking to advance to the college level, and possibly beyond.
It started with her founding of the 1 Nation AAU program, which ultimately landed an endorsement deal from Under Armour and has competed on a national level the past two summers.
Jones said she supplies the players and parents in her program with resources pertaining to NCAA eligibility, college entrance exams and questions to ask college coaches throughout the recruiting process.
She said she’d like to take that to a national level, and one of the first steps will come this weekend at the Marshall County Hoop Fest in Benton, Ky., where Jackson will play two games with his high school team and Jones will be on hand to lead a workshop for parents centered on how to navigate the recruiting process from an athletic and academic standpoint.
“Nobody has your kid’s best interests at heart more than you,” she said. “Every parent wants the best for their kids. But you have to get in there. You have to ask the hard questions. You have to be wary of other people. You have to be skeptical all the time. Everything is a doubt, until they prove otherwise.”
Jackson, who was recruited by Kentucky early in the process but no longer seems to be considering the Wildcats, has a small list of schools but still hasn’t said a whole lot about his recruitment. Arizona, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan State and UCLA are the programs mentioned the most.
Jones says her son will take all five of his official visits, and he’s not expected to make a college decision until the spring. While Jones has been critical of the NCAA and the way it treats prospective student-athletes, she quickly shot down any chance of Jackson skipping college altogether for a season overseas before he heads off to the NBA.
“I’ve read that crap,” she says of the overseas rumors. “Josh wants to go to college, so Josh will be on a college campus. He’s definitely going to do that.
“If he entertained (going overseas), I would definitely entertain it. Because that’s how much I think the NCAA is messed up. … But my kid is going to college.”
So while Josh maneuvers through the final stages of his recruiting process, his mother is putting the initial touches on a plan that she hopes will help others that find themselves in a similar position.
“I want to come in and include parents,” she said. “I always see an AAU coach or a high school coach with the kid. Especially with these elite players. I want to empower parents. I want to educate them, give them the resources to get involved. Get out here and get involved with your kid’s passion. Because the game is so brutal now.
“It’s a multi-billion dollar business, and when you’re dealing with something of this magnitude, you’re going to have some people who don’t have these kids’ best interests at heart.”