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Eisenhower’s Jemel Jones, who boxed with his brother, fights back for South Suburban College. ‘A killer, man.’


Jemel Jones used to play basketball with his brother Jamal in Chicago.

Jemel would win. But that didn’t sit too well with Jamal.

“He was a boxer,” Jemel said. “I would beat him and then he would want to fight me. Then he would beat me in boxing.”

Oh, by the way, Jemel said he was 10 at the time. His brother, who was five years older, played football for Simeon.

So, when Jemel says that “no one bullies me on the court,” he has the training and toughness to back it up.

Jones, a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard at South Suburban College, leads NJCAA Division II in scoring by averaging 33.3 points. The Eisenhower graduate has scored 50 or more points twice this season, including a program-record 56 on Jan. 16 — to go along with 12 assists, nine rebounds and four steals — in a 124-58 win over Bosco Institute.

SSC coach John Pigatti welcomes the scoring but also said excelling in the other aspects of the game will allow Jones to move on to the next stage of his basketball career.

“There is a lot there with Jemel,” Pigatti said. “We’re just trying to get rid of the bad habits before he goes to the next level.

“He’s a prolific scorer, but he also gets nine rebounds and six or seven assists a game. Against Kankakee (Feb. 1), he had 36 points and took 22 shots. That’s a good player. That’s not a jacker who gets 36 points and takes 36 shots.”

Freshman forward Quentin Heady, a Hillcrest graduate who is averaging 16.6 points and 7.3 rebounds and ranks second in the nation with a 64.8 shooting percentage, is amazed at Jones’ abilities.

“He’s just a killer, man,” Heady said. “He hits fadeaways. He dunks. He gives us a lot of offense.”

Former Eisenhower standout Jemel Jones, now a sophomore at South Suburban College, takes the ball inside during a game against Kankakee on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (Jeff Vorva / Daily Southtown)
Former Eisenhower standout Jemel Jones, now a sophomore at South Suburban College, takes the ball inside during a game against Kankakee on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (Jeff Vorva / Daily Southtown)

Last season, Jones attended Olive-Harvey and was 11th in the country, averaging 22.8 points despite being 529th in the nation in minutes a game with 18.2. He was named second team NJCAA Division II All-American.

But a coaching change found Jones coming back to SSC, a place where he once attended a camp when he was just starting to play the sport.

After returning for a few open gyms during the summer, Jones was hooked.

“I knew something special was going to happen this season,” Jones said. “Coach Pigatti’s work ethic and knowledge of the game is so different.”

And now, SSC (22-2) entered this week ranked No. 3 in the nation. The Bulldogs also are riding a 59-game winning streak on their home court in South Holland.

South Suburban freshman Quentin Heady, a former Hillcrest star, battles through traffic for a shot attempt against Kankakee during a game on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (Jeff Vorva / Daily Southtown)
South Suburban College freshman Quentin Heady, a former Hillcrest star, battles through traffic for a shot attempt against Kankakee during a game on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2024. (Jeff Vorva / Daily Southtown)

Jones and Heady head up a roster rich with talent from the Southland. South Holland’s Julius and Marlon Byrd, former Shepard standout Chris Harrison and former Hillcrest star Kenton Wright are not only on the team but playing significant minutes.

“I knew some of these players when I got here,” Heady said. “So, we already had some chemistry, which is good for the team.”

Players rapidly come and go in junior college, but Jones is putting his trust in Pigatti to help him find a four-year home.

For now, Jones is thinking about SSC trying to become a national champion. He said he loves basketball for the team aspect of it.

“I look at a bigger picture,” Jones said. “It’s a team sport and it brings people together to win. It builds bonds and friendships that last a lifetime.

“And it’s fun. It keeps your body in shape. There are so many positive things playing the game of basketball.”

Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.



Jeff Vorva , 2024-02-05 17:17:38

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