Sophomore Michael Jones overcomes scary injury to lead Montevallo

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor 

MONTEVALLO – Unresponsive and lying on the gym floor with his mom screaming from the side and an ambulance still several minutes away, Michael Jones’ life was flashing before his eyes.

The atmosphere all of a sudden went from electric to concern and fear with players and fans crying and screaming as Jones started to shake and foam at the mouth.

Not knowing what was happening, Montevallo head basketball coach Greg Dickinson tried to remain calm for his players, but when Jones stopped breathing for a second, panic was setting in.

“We had to focus on keeping him breathing,” Dickinson said. “With the ambulance still 10 minutes away, that was our main goal because a seizure shouldn’t last as long as this was lasting.”

Dickinson recalls a blank stare from Jones, but he couldn’t respond.

“His temperature went up sky high, so we were fanning him and doing everything we could think of,” Dickinson said. “His mom was on the sideline panicking, screaming, crying and praying.”

That’s when a prayer group formed on the side, as players, fans and others throughout the gymnasium joined together in a circle to pray for Jones’ safety.

There was a point in time where Dickinson also had to help in performing CPR when he stopped breathing for a second.

“We were just trying to keep him alive,” he recalled. “Finally, he started to look at us and his breathing returned, but he still couldn’t talk.”

That’s when the ambulance arrived. The gym was evacuated at that point to make room for the paramedics, who swiftly loaded Jones onto a stretcher and took him to Shelby Baptist Medical Center.

A night of prayer

The scary moment came in a game against Leeds on Jan. 8, 2019, where the Bulldogs were seeking revenge following a loss to the Greenwave 10 days earlier. And the freshman Jones caught fire early.

After knocking down back-to-back 3-pointers, he put Montevallo up 33-15 and had close to 20 points in the first half, but that was the last thing he remembered from that game.

Driving to the basket shortly after, Jones was fouled hard, which carried his momentum out of bounds and ended with his head slamming into the concrete wall next to the padding behind the basket.

“I remember in the first quarter, I was hitting almost everything,” Jones said. “Then I drove in, got knocked down and don’t really remember anything after that.”

But what he didn’t remember was begging to go back in the game after taking a breather on the bench following the hit to the head.

“When I put him back in the second half, I saw that he couldn’t guard nobody, he couldn’t stay in front of anybody,” Dickinson said. “So I took him out. I said ‘Boy, you OK?’ He said ‘Yeah coach, I’m good.’ I told him ‘Well sit down, cause you can’t guard nobody right now.’”

But Jones contested he felt fine and at that time, there were no other signs of anything being wrong other than his nonchalant play on defense, so he went back in.

After playing a few minutes, he was taken back out with the game in hand leading up to the end.

That’s when everything took a turn for the worse, and his life flashed in front of his own eyes as well as everyone else’s in the gym.

“I could tell he was spaced out, so I started yelling ‘MJ, you alright?’ and that’s when he became unresponsive,” Dickinson said.

That’s when Jones collapsed near the team bench.

After doing everything they could to keep him alive and the paramedics had taken him to Shelby Baptist, Montevallo’s players and coaches threw their clothes in the locker room and immediately piled into cars to drive to the hospital along with Jones’ family and friends.

“At that point it was just a waiting game,” Dickinson said. “He was in there for hours. They were checking to make sure there was no swelling around the brain and things like that because that’s what they were scared of.”

But after doing scans and keeping him overnight for tests, Jones was released from the hospital on similar protocol to a concussion.

“I had to miss school for a couple of days and couldn’t watch TV or look at a screen for a while,” Jones said.

Remarkably, Jones only had to miss two-and-a-half weeks after that terrifying night before he could step back on the court and jump back into action.

“It was a major blessing,” Dickinson said. “I didn’t think he would make it back. I didn’t know if he would play again. Being a freshman, I just wanted to do what was best for his health and didn’t want to rush him back. When the doctors cleared him, I was still nervous about it, but the doctors and his parents assured me he was good to go.”

So, in the final game of the regular season, Jones returned to action and in fitting fashion, he helped Dickinson pick up his 100th career win with the Bulldogs thanks to nine points.

“It felt normal,” Jones said of being back out there. “The entire situation made me more grateful and thankful. Not for just basketball, but for life and family. There were so many people that were there for me that night.”

For Dickinson, it’s a moment he’ll never forget.

“Yeah, man, that was the scariest coaching moment of my career by far,” Dickinson said. “MJ is one of my special kids because I’ve been working with him since third grade.” 

The desire for greatness

Jones went on to finish his freshman season averaging 10.9 points, 4.5 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game with 32 steals. And now, as a sophomore, he’s back and putting up even more jaw dropping numbers with an average of 18.6 points, 4.8 assists, four steals and three rebounds per game.

He’s helped lead the Bulldogs to 17 wins in a row, an area tournament championship and a berth in the Sweet 16, and Dickinson says that’s all because of his desire to get better.

“He comes in after practice and works, he takes time on the weekend to work and he plays with college kids in the offseason to work,” Dickinson said. “He’s a gym rat that’s always looking to improve his game.”

The transition from his freshman year to his sophomore season has also been a helpful factor in taking his game to the next level, not only because of experience, but because he’s hit a growth spurt and has also gotten stronger.

“Last year, I was more of a shooter,” Jones said. “I didn’t drive much because I got bumped around so easily as small as I was. But this year, it’s gotten easier. I can finish through contact and I’m not afraid to drive. Being able to add that to my game as well as continue shooting the three has given me the confidence to make any shot and has changed the way defenses guard me.”

None of the early success is a surprise to Dickinson, who has worked with Jones since the third grade to help him prepare for this moment.

“I told his parents before ever even playing a middle school game that if he stuck with it, he’d never play JV or ninth grade ball, he’d come straight through to varsity,” Dickinson said. “No kid works as hard as he does and doesn’t see benefits.”

Now, as a sophomore, Jones and Dickinson both believe that this year’s team can compete for a state championship, and the two still have two more years together after this one. 

The family tree 

Jones also benefits from having a father who played basketball collegiately at the University of Southern Miss, as well as two sisters that played the game and stand close to 6-feet tall.

“We are a competitive family,” Jones said.

His sisters used to tease him every time Dickinson said he’d be able to play varsity ball as a freshman by saying, ‘No he won’t, don’t boost his head up. He’s not playing varsity as a freshman.’

“That definitely drove me,” Jones said before laughing and saying, “I proved them wrong.”

He’s also had his dad pushing him every step of the way. And while it’s normally an encouraging push, there are times where Jones admits he just wants to prove his dad wrong too.

“Seeing him sitting in the stands and yelling at me during the game, I want to prove to him that I can do what I need to do,” Jones said. “That’s a big driver for me.”

That father-son relationship has been special to both, and it’s something Dickinson knew would pay dividends in the long run.

“I knew he was going to be special because of that relationship,” Dickinson said. “When you have someone in your life holding you accountable like that, you really have no choice. His dad raised him the right way and taught him about work ethic and character. When you have those characteristics and the work ethic, you’re going to get great results.”

Now, as a sophomore in high school, Jones hopes to follow in his dad’s footsteps and use the game as a tool to get a college education and possibly take it a step further to the professional level.

After facing the adversity of nearly losing his life and coming back stronger than ever, the “sky is the limit,” but more importantly, he’s happy to have a second chance at chasing his dream.