Not strong enough. Not quick enough. Too small.
These are things that Mustafaa Jones has heard all throughout his basketball journey, from people in and around the game. Being seen as too small, not strong enough, and not quick enough, people were critical of Jones and his abilities. Regardless of what his critics said, there was always one person who knew he had it in him all along.
Mustafaa Jones, himself.
Instead of letting the doubters and non-believers get him down, Jones used it as extra motivation. He knew he had it in him to make it, and did everything he could to make his dream a reality.
Throughout his journey through the ranks, Jones encountered some obstacles that would be insurmountable for most. When his back was firmly against the wall, and others were trying to stack the odds against him, Jones forged his own path, and did what he needed to do to get a step closer to his goal.
When the dust settled, Jones is in the conversation as one of the best players to ever suit up for the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights, and he is still on pace to achieve his ultimate dream.
From an early age, it was clear that Jones was destined for a career playing basketball.
“My mom said that I picked up a ball when I was 11 months old, and I haven’t put it down since, to be honest,” said Jones, who grew up in Philadelphia. “I played in my first organized league at 6, and from there I never stopped playing.”
From organized leagues to summer camps, and from games with neighbours to practices, Jones was invested in the game of basketball from a young age.
To try and get the best competition possible for his son, Jones’ father said that it was time for him to branch out and play kids from other neighbourhoods.
“I was one of the best kids in my neighbourhood,” said Jones. “I would get comfortable playing the kids that I knew, so my dad said it was time to branch out and play kids from other neighbourhoods.”
“It was like, ok, now let’s play AAU and take you around to play kids from New York, Maryland, and D.C.”
The goal was to get the best competition possible for Jones, to set him up for a strong future in the game. With the travels came the beginning of the trials and tribulations for Jones.
When the doubters started to surface, Jones did what any Philadelphia native would do. He turned his attention to an All-Star in the NBA for a source of motivation.
He looked right to his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers for his inspiration.
“Just being the small player, like people said he was 6’0” standing on a phone book, and 165-pounds soaking wet. That was me as a kid,” said Jones, when asked about his biggest basketball influence as a kid. “The year they made the championship, he really dominated. And to watch him do that, it was like I could do the same thing.”
When Jones was a senior in high school, it seemed as though the influence that Iverson had on his game was paying off. Jones was a part of the Neumann-Goretti team that went 30-1 overall, with their lone loss coming by a single point at the hands of Yates, the number one team in the country.
As most would expect, the loss still sticks in the mind of Jones and the rest of the team, but it’s more of a “what if” memory.
“We talk about it all the time, how it would’ve been cool if we would have went undefeated that year, win the state championship, and would’ve finished ultimately #1 in the country,” said Jones.
“It would’ve been a great, great feeling since we all grew up together.”
With his senior season now a memory, Jones turned his attention to the NCAA. After garnering serious consideration from plenty of Division I schools, Jones accepted an offer to become a member of the Hartford Hawks in the America East.
His stay there was short-lived, as he transferred away from the program after just one season.
The off-season after transferring was one full of ups-and-downs for Jones. Ultimately, he landed at Fairleigh Dickinson, but he had to overcome his non-believers and the odds that were stacked against him once more.
“It’s a crazy story, actually,” said Jones, of how he ended up becoming a Knight. “I was transferring from Hartford, and I had a few Division I schools that were recruiting me before and they contacted me. But, it seemed like every school that contacted me, once they called Hartford for game film, I never heard from them again.”
“Not to boost my own ego, but I’m a good teammate, I’m a good person on and off the court, I never argue with the coaches and I never talk back. So, I wasn’t sure what was going on.”
The summer was starting to wind down, and school was starting in some places for the fall semester. Meanwhile, Jones’ name wasn’t on any roster in the NCAA.
Armed with a firm belief in himself and his abilities both on and off the court, Jones and his father started to take matters into their own hands.
“It was late in the summer, like around August. School was starting up in some places, and I’m still sitting at home with no school,” said Jones. “So, me and my dad started calling around.”
One school they called was Fairleigh Dickinson. Jones arranged to meet with the coach, and went in with a firm goal in mind, and got straight to the point.
“I’m willing to come here as a walk-on, and if I get along with the players and can play, would you be man enough to basically give me a scholarship?”
That’s what Jones came with in the interview, and the coach knew what he was about before Jones even got there.
“I googled you, I saw that you had a lot of Division I offers coming out of high school, and yo were pretty good in high school,” said the coach to Jones. “You’re definitely a Division I player, but I want to see if you get along with the players and fit in my system.”
Oh, how the internet has changed society.
After months of sitting at home, and having teams leave him in the dark, Mustafaa Jones had found his new team. It look a bit of hard work, but with a strong belief in what he could do on the court, he was heading to New Jersey and Fairleigh Dickinson University.
In practice leading up to the season, Jones was looking for every opportunity to prove himself, and to show that he can fit into the system. That’s never an easy thing to do when you’re the new kid on the block, and Jones found that out first-hand.
“Literally, maybe the first month, maybe two months, I wasn’t getting in practice at all,” said Jones, about his arrival at Fairleigh Dickinson. “Like, just standing there because he had his team already. I was just an extra.”
Despite the early struggles, he stayed positive. When the opportunity was to present itself, he would be ready. As the season goes, injuries come up, and coaches turn to others to step in and fill the void.
That’s how Jones got his chance to shine in practice with the Knights.
“I think I started getting in around late November. The whole month of December and January, during winter break, I don’t think I missed a shot in practice.” That’s the story Jones gets from the coach.
One day, Jones got called into the coach’s office, and received the news he had longed to hear. He recalls the situation like it was yesterday.
“He called me into the office one day and was like, we want to offer you a scholarship. Like, you can really shoot it, and I’ll think you’ll fit in perfect here.”
All of the hard work in practice, putting in the work to find a school to take a flyer on him had paid off. Jones got his opportunity to shine, made the most of it, and was on scholarship once again.
Jones stayed true to the game, stayed in the gym, and didn’t let anything get in the way of achieving his dream.
“I have a strong faith in God that I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me,” added Jones.
It was a match made in heaven.
Jones ended up playing three years at Fairleigh Dickinson. When his tenure came to a close, he left his mark on the program, and is one of the best players to ever suit up for Fairleigh Dickinson.
He broke the school three point record in just three seasons with the Knights. To compare his time at Fairleigh Dickinson to Hartford, Jones made 193 three pointers with the Knights in three season, compared to just 2 total three pointers in his entire freshman campaign with the Hawks.
Looking back on the process that led him from high school to Hartford, and then eventually to Fairleigh Dickinson, Jones never lost hope.
“I knew what I was capable of. I knew I could play at that level, and just because one coach didn’t see me fitting in with his system, I wasn’t going to let that deter me from my dream, and my goal.”
With over 300 schools at the Division I level alone, there were plenty of options for Jones. Division II was an option, as well, but it wasn’t one that he would seriously consider.
“He tried to send me to Division II schools,” said Jones, following his transfer from Hartford. “They brought me into the office every day, like ‘oh, we talked to this D2 school…’, and it got to the point that I was like thanks, but no thanks.”
“I know what I’m capable of, and I know what I can do.”
Locked in on his dream, Jones proved that he was indeed a Division I player, and the rest is, as you would say, history.
It took a bit of extra work, but Jones landed a scholarship offer from Fairleigh Dickinson, where he went on to become one of the best players in the program’s history.
Fast forward to the 2015-16 season, and Jones is now a member of the London Lightning in the National Basketball League of Canada. His journey north of the border didn’t come without its own share of bumps in the road, and it goes far beyond the daily snow fall that he encounters on a regular basis in London, ON.
“The biggest transition to me would be the snow. Like, I’m used to the snow in Philly and Jersey, but not so much. Every day, it’s just snowing here.”
In the summer following his graduation, Jones was working out at his agency when another speed bump presented itself.
“I wound up breaking my pinkie in late August, so that kinda set me back,” said Jones. “My agent was contacting different places, and he said that Canada was kind of a vibe that he was getting, that I could possibly play in that league.”
With the timing of his injury, and when the season started up in Canada, the opportunity quickly became a reality.
“My agent was like, that’d be a perfect league for you to go to because it starts up later, and you’ll have time to heal and go up there to work out and get ready for the season. So, they offered me a great opportunity here as a rookie on one of the best teams in the league, and I couldn’t turn it down.”
With that, Jones was a member of the two-time NBL Canada champion London Lightning.
This year’s London team is arguably the deepest team in the league. With so many talented players on the roster, including in the back court, Jones has had to take on a different role than he saw with the Knights in college.
Coming off the bench.
London has the likes of Tyshawn Patterson (Stetson), Nick Okorie (Texas Tech), and others in the back court, so playing time can be hard to come by. But, like he has throughout his entire career, Jones is keeping an open mind, and is out to prove himself once more.
“To be honest, it reminds me so much of just my career, period,” stated Jones about his new role with the Lightning. “I didn’t start in high school until my junior year, earned a Division I scholarship, then had the trials and tribulations with Hartford.”
“Went to FDU, started the rest of my junior and senior year, so, I mean, it’s always a process that you have to go through. So, I believe it’s just starting from the bottom all over again and working my way back up.”
Currently, the Lightning are 15-4 on the season, 5.5 games up on the Windsor Express for top spot in the Central Division, and 2.5 games up on the Halifax Hurricanes for the best record in the league.
Jones has appeared in 15 of the team’s 19 games this season. He is averaging 3.7 points per contest, while shooting 45% (18-of-40) from three point range on the year. He gives Coach Julius options in the back court. Having played point guard growing up, he can play both on and off the ball, allowing for coach to mix-and-match his lineups while having confidence in Jones at both guard spots.
Much like Allen Iverson did for him when he was growing up, Jones is giving plenty of young players in the local basketball community, and likely his old neighbourhood, motivation to keep pushing and prove their doubters wrong.
He has some wise words of wisdom for youngsters who hear the same things he heard throughout his career, or for anyone who thinks they can’t achieve their dreams because of what other people think.
“Nobody can stop you, but you,” said Jones. “Never let what someone thinks of you or what they say affect you, because at the end of the day, what God has for you, he has for you.”
“If you want to do something and put your mind to it, you can do it.”
Mustafaa Jones is living proof of his advice. Every single word of it. Countless times, the odds were stacked against Jones, and others didn’t think that he had it in him to be the player that he is today.
He didn’t start right away in high school, but he ended up helping lead his team to a 30-1 record as a senior. He landed himself a Division I scholarship, and when people tried to say he wasn’t a top-tier player, he went out and became the best three-point shooter in Fairleigh Dickinson history. When he broke his finger after graduation, he kept on pushing and signed a deal to play professional basketball in Canada.
Time and time again, Mustafaa Jones has beaten the odds.
He has welcomed his latest challenge in London, and is out to prove himself once again. Looking back on his career-to-date, Jones summed up his trials and tribulations with his doubters and non-believers with six simple words.
“I think I proved ’em wrong.”