“I was trying to catch up,” he said, “and as I was changing, I was getting further behind.”
After the outing last July, when he was relieved after several walks, Lumpkins determined that, even in time, he’d be unable to make the changes the Royals had suggested. At 22, he retired from baseball but retained his signing bonus and the promise that his school would be paid for.
Lumpkins called an AU assistant basketball coach, who mentioned to Jones that Lumpkins was considering a return. Jones thought about it, but would the kid be committed? He had already walked away once.
“I guess if there was a worry on Lump’s part about somebody carrying a grudge,” Jones said, “they would be worrying about me.”
The coach said he spoke twice with Lumpkins, who reaffirmed his desire to play. He had started his career at American, and now he wanted to finish it. Jones said the talks convinced him that Lumpkins’s failed baseball experiment had matured him.
With Jones’s blessing, Lumpkins returned to campus, starting conditioning drills last August, before his teammates reported for practices. He finally felt at home. Jones saw an opportunity in the Patriot League with two skilled post players, Lumpkins and power forward Tony Wroblicky, who had taken Lumpkins’s place down low but had to make room for his return.
Jones said the past drama with his best player is mostly forgotten. “He did something that he thought he needed to do,” the coach said.
Sitting in a back room in the Eagles’ basketball office, Lumpkins chuckled when asked whether he’s finished with baseball. He said he’s a basketball player, and it took him leaving the game to realize that.
Jones said Lumpkins, who leads AU (10-19) in scoring and rebounding entering Wednesday’s Patriot League tournament quarterfinal at Army, could play professionally in Europe.
He asked Lumpkins whether he remembered those early days, when he was so reserved. The basketball player smiled and nodded, looking his coach in the eye.
“I’ve come a long way,” Lumpkins said.