Utilizing Junior College Athletics for The Betterment of Lives

Jamaurie Coakley learned a lesson by observing his two best friends. Growing up first in Cambridge and later on in Milton, the Bunker Hill Community College freshman did not want to follow in the same path as his middle school best friends did.

That path was to jail. Instead, Coakley, with the help of Bunker Hill Men’s Basketball Head Coach Nkrumah Jones is finding a way out. A Dean’s List student, Coakley epitomizes Jones’ coaching outlook. The tight-knit community, especially his Bunker Hill basketball program, can better a young student-athlete’s life.

“Any junior college should be a stepping stone for where you want to go whether it’s athletically or academically,” Jones said. “It’s a situation where you have to realize that and you have to be pushed.”

The 19-year-old Coakley appreciates the mentorship Jones offers beyond the game of basketball.

“He’s been there for me when there’s lows and highs,” He said. “He’s a real coach. I like him a lot, it’s not just about basketball with him, it’s about life.

“He’s a real role model for us.”

North Cambridge-born Fredens Deneus left the Bunker Hill program after playing two years. He stayed a third year, not playing basketball to focus on academics to get enough credits to depart with an associates degree in hand, en route to attending Alabama State University on a basketball scholarship this season.

“Growing up where I come from there’s not a lot of success,” the 22-year-old Deneus said. “I wanted to get out of my environment and better myself and my family, make my parents proud. I had to do whatever it took.”

Jones, 50, said Deneus left with his blessing and he is “tremendously proud” of him.

Bunker Hill Community College Athletic Director Loreto Jackson praised Jones for his work with students.

“He is a dedicated alumnus of the College, and he works tirelessly on and off the court to ensure that his student-athletes have the same experience,” Jackson said. “Coach Jones embodies the essence of a true educator who really cares about his student-athletes. “

Coakley averaged 17.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game for the Bulldogs (20-12), including erupting for an unprecedented 55 point performance in a 104-76 victory over Mass Bay Community College on Feb. 6. Named to both the NJCAA State-Tournament and NJCAA Region XXI first-teams, Coakley uses basketball as an avenue out of an otherwise entrenching community.

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Growing up the middle of five siblings and with a single mother, Coakley was surrounded by uncles, aunts and various family members before moving to Milton.

He is looking to follow in the steps of Deneus, in so doing he hopes to help set a trend demonstrating basketball players from tough local neighborhoods can utilize Bunker Hill as a stepping stone to improving their lives.

“It would make me proud,” Coakley said. “I hope it would make my people back home proud. We’d all be coming from the same area in North Cambridge, that would be great.”

“For him to want to be one of the flagship guys that helps to change the stigma or whatever culture that was previous, that is a big plus for us because he’s an outstanding kid,” Jones said.

Flanked by family and friends, the hat comes on and the dotted line is splattered with a bold signature. The National Letter of Intent is usually symbolic of another high school star set to embark on their dream. Collegiate athletics, playing for a coach that wants them, a school they love and a program that has the best interest of the student-athlete as the forefront of its ideals.

Many student-athletes transfer from their first college. Across all levels of intercollegiate basketball, men’s hoops is consistently high among rates of student-athlete transfers. This can be for myriad reasons whether it be academics, location, or the opportunity to play.

Rob Smith, a Waltham based sports psychologist who transferred as a collegiate athlete himself said these transfers are more commonplace than ever before.

“Today’s athlete in general, I can’t just say in basketball, but in general are more driven by their own personal advantages,” He said. “[Due to] personal gains and not giving it up for the team or remaining patient.”

Of all the higher education in metropolitan Boston, the Bunker Hill Community College basketball program has seen immense roster turnover for reasons both good and bad. Under Jones, a 2001 BHCC graduate, the roster turnover has been and continues to be a challenge of coaching at the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division 3 school.

Jones is also a nine-year teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin. He works with students returning from school after recovering from traumatic events in the BRYT program. His familiarity with the tough home lives of his students in Cambridge aids his relationships with Bunker Hill’s student-athletes.

He said that since arriving at BHCC he has seen more stable rosters each year. In completing his seventh season last month, six different players left the team in total throughout the year. He said that since arriving to Bunker Hill, his squad’s rosters have not grown much, but some student-athletes still fail to maintain eligibility.

“The turnover can be troublesome, but right now we have a handle on it,” Jones said.

Smith, 57, began studying sports psychology in 1981, concentrating in performance psychology with a graduate degree from the University of Cincinnati for a Masters and PhD in clinical psychology. He transferred from Division 3 Trinity College where he played basketball to the University of Wisconsin where he gave up playing.

He said that basketball players may transfer at higher rates than other sports with larger rosters due to a difference with their relationship with their teams. Compared to football, Smith said basketball players are more apt to take action for themselves rather than the team.

“One critical difference is that football is still, even at the NFL level, is much more on the military model, you follow what the coach says and does and you don’t question it,” Smith said. “There may be a greater allegiance to sticking around.

“Whereas with basketball… Athletes say ‘well if I’m not going to play, I might as well transfer. I’ll go somewhere else where I can get more playing time.’”

According to data published by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in Dec. 2017, basketball has the second highest instance of transfers of both two and four years colleges with transfer athletes making up 14.7 and 13.0 percent, respectively.  

While Smith’s philosophy on higher-level athletic transfers offers insight into transferring as a whole, it is much different at the local level as personal gains are not selfish. Not all of these personally related transfers are such a bad thing at Bunker Hill Community College.

“It’s a situation where at Bunker Hill we can push more, so if a guy wants to come here, then get his feet strong on the ground and then he feels like there’s a better situation for him, then we have that conversation,” Jones said.

Note: Featured photo courtesy of Bunker Hill Community College
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