Earl Jones, one of the best high school basketball players in the nation, said yesterday he would forego college basketball it given the chance to turn professional next year.
In an interview with The Washington Post, the 6-foot-10 senior whose transfer to Spingarn High School from Mount Hope, W. Va., caused major rumblings in scholastic circles, talked freely about the following subjects:
The D.C. school system's recent ruling that rendered him ineligible until February and his suit against the school system which allowed him to play two games last week and a preliminary game Tuesday prior to the Bullets-Phoenix contest before his hearing Thursday. He scored 14 and 22 points last week -- both Spingarn victories.
His first three years at Mount Hope, where he became one of the most sought-after basketball players, attracting hundreds of scholarship offers, but barely earning passing grades and missing 63 days of school last year.
His decision to transfer to Spingarn and his future plans.
"There's no doubt about it," Jones said. "I want to play pro ball. I would turn pro next year if the money was right.I'd take a million to $1.5 million for maybe three years. But I'd want a contract that provided me the opportunity to go to college.
"In case I got hurt, I'd want to be secure in the contract. I've seen how many pro athletes have blown much of their money, buying a lot of unnecessary things. Guys by four and five cars. What for? You can only drive one at a time.
"Basketball is very important to me. I know it can be a means for me to make money. I'd buy my mother a home, give my family some money and save the rest. I'd live in a small apartment somewhere. That's all I need," he said.
Jones added that if a pro offer was not forthcoming and if he did go to college, he would stay only "one or two years" before declaring hardship.
"I feel I'm an average student and I could do the work. I realize I can't play basketball forever and I would need something to fall back on if something happened. I know education is important."
William (Doc) Robinson, who became Jones' legal guardian last summer and was responsible for Jones coming to Washington, said he has discussed at length with Jones the advantages and disadvantages of foregoing college in favor of the pros. Robinson, a playground director at Lincoln Recreation Center in Northwest, coached Jones in a summer league.
"I'd like to see him to do a year in college but if he can get a good contract, deferring his money and allotting so much for college, I'd go along with him signing a pro contract," Robinson said.
"Everybody goes to school to get enough education to get a job in this world. The name of the game is economics. Jones' job will be playing basketball."
Since he discovered he would be a foot taller than most people in the world, the quiet, reserved Jones has been preparing for his proposed vocation. w
"I was 6-6 in the sixth grade. I could play a lot of sports, but I began to concentrate on basketball," he said. "I can punt a football 50 yards, play baseball, run hurdles, high jump (6-6) and I'm a good table tennis player."
"In the eight grade, I broke my ankle but it's okay now. I tried to learn to do everything on the court. I learned to handle the ball well because I wanted to play guard. That's how I learned to pass."
He was a basketball star at the small (less than 500 students) school in Mount Hope, averaging 25 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocked shots. His team's three-year record was 64-9. He is regarded as a classic big man, who can shoot from the perimeter, play defense and bring the ball up court.
He is compared favorably to Moses Malone, who passed up college in favor of the pros and now is a regular with the Houston Rockets, and with last year's two high school premier big men, 7-4 Ralph Sampson (now at Virginia) and 7-1 Sam Bowie (Kentucky).
Among the many colleges who have shown interest in Jones are Maryland, UCLA, Nevada-Las Vegas, North Carolina State, Syracuse and Georgia.
Jones may not have the necessary 2.0 grade-point projection required by the NCAA for scholarships to Division I schools. But Jones said, if he went to college, he might opt for a lesser-known school, such as the University of the District of Columbia.
"Sure I'd play there, I like the coaches," Jones said. "I don't care if the school isn't big. One day they'll have a real good program."
While most people lauded Jones' play, there was criticism of the 18-year old for failing to bring the state championship to his high school. His team did not make the playoffs in either his sophomore or junior years, and Jones' ears burned with what he considered unfair criticism.
That, along with problems he had with a "couple of teachers" led him to consider playing elsewhere. Despite missing 63 class days, he passed three courses, but failed three others. Under West Virginia law he would have been eligible to play ball this year.
"A couple of the teachers thought I considered myself a privileged character and deserved special treatment," Jones said. "I don't consider myself any different from anyone else.People blamed me for the team losing. I got tired of listening to that. And I didn't think I was being treated fair in the classroom."
He was declared ineligible to play in the D.C. system because he missed 63 of 91 school days last spring. Washington public schools require a student to attend school more than two-thirds of the previous semester to be eligible for participation in athletic programs.
"I missed the days but all of them weren't unexcused as everyone says," Jones explained. "I was sick part of the time and I had to stay home sometime for other reasons. My mother wrote excuses for those days.
"I was passing my classes and I didn't think I was hurting myself by staying home."
Jones' mother, Margaret, eventually withdrew her son from school in May. The youngest of the eight Jones children came to Washington to spend a "couple of weeks" with one of his five sisters.
"I knew I was going to transfer to either a school in Washington or Maryland. I wasn't going back to Mount Hope. I felt the Washington area would give me the opportunity to better myself academically and I could play against better competition."
Jones' mother reenrolled her son at school and he returned in June to take his final exams at her request.
Jones says he thought he passed all o f his finals and all his courses. He reportedly received three failing grades for the year, one C, and D, and one "satisfactory."
"I didn't think I would have a problem playing here," Jones said. "I was told everything was okay. When they said I couldn't play, I didn't know what to think.
"I was very disappointed. I felt maybe I was being used as an example of some kind. But I didn't get down on anyone or myself. It's just a temporary setback. I'm glad to have played these couple of games. And I'm very pleased I'll get the chance to play at Capital Centre (Tuesday vs. Dunbar of Baltimore).
"I think everything will work out. I'm quiet and don't like to talk much. Maybe some people here didn't want me to play," Jones continued. "Everyone here has been fair to me and I've done fine at school. No problems."
Because Jones is quiet, he has been called by some people uncooperative, distrustful and slow. Jones scoffs at such descriptions.
"I just don't talk to people until I get to know them," he said. "I don't read a lot of papers and magazines because people (writers) say what they want anyway," he said. "It doesn't worry me."
Jones said he is not bitter, and will not hold a grudge if he does gain his eligibility in court.
"I'll get my chance to play eventually. Right now, I don't think my chances of getting a pro offer or college scholarship are being hurt.
"I can run. I'm only about 207 but I'm strong," he continued. "I like to play facing the basketball. I have a good outside shot and I can handle the ball. The people here haven't seen me really play yet. I'll get to show them."
Jones said the pressure of college recruiting hasn't bothered him because he rarely speaks to recruiters.
"I tell them they must speak to Doc. He handles all my business."
Jones said he heard some people in West Virginia were elated when he was delcared ineligible.
"Like I said, what people say about me doesn't hurt me," he said. "Most of them wished me well, but some people have small minds. I sure didn't think my coming here would create this much noise. If I wasn't All-america nothing would've been said."