KNOXVILLE, TN – Every young girl who picks up a basketball and falls in love with the game dreams of the nice weekend that DeLisha Milton-Jones is experimenting.
She flew to Knoxville Friday morning from Colorado Springs, Colorado, where she is an 18-year-old FIBA USA National Team assistant coach, and spent the day touring, doing interviews with the media and spending time with more than two dozen family members and a handful of Old Dominion officials and donors.
After a full day of events on Saturday, the ODU women’s basketball coach will be officially inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame at the Tennessee Theater in downtown Knoxville, located a short distance from the Tennessee campuses.
The Old Dominion women’s basketball coach will join an elite club that includes former Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, former great and current UConn and WNBA host Rebecca Lobo, former Louisiana Tech All- American and LSU Kim Mulkey and Robin Roberts, the Good Morning American Hostess who is a former women’s basketball reporter.
She will also join four former ODU All-Americans in the room – Inge Nissen, Nancy Lieberman, Ticha Penicheiro and Anne Donovan, and former head coach Marianne Stanley.
“I’m so proud and honored and feel so blessed to have this honor at this point in my career,” she said.
“I have a real sense of excitement and a few butterflies since I started working on my acceptance speech. I kind of remembered a lot of great moments. I will be thanking a lot of people.
“Believe me, it’s a great experience to live.”
Niece Alex Gatlin, mother Beverly Milton and grandmother Ruth Richardson with Milton-Jones
Although she’s only 47, Milton-Jones has a stellar resume highlighted by 19 seasons of professional basketball.
Jones played for the University of Florida and was named Kodak All-American and SEC Player of the Year. Interestingly, his last game for the Gators came against ODU, when the Lady Monarchs triumphed in an NCAA Tournament game.
She played for two seasons with the Portland Power of the American Basketball League before joining the WNBA after the ABL closed. She was the fourth player selected in the WNBA Draft and played two long stints with the Los Angeles Sparks while also playing for Washington, San Antonio and New York.
She was on two WNBA championship teams, was selected to the WNBA All-Star Team three times, and was a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
After retiring, she went to Pepperdine for three seasons and quickly rebuilt a moribund schedule. She was an assistant the first season and head coach for two. In his senior season, Pepperdine won 22 games and earned a bid for the WNIT.
She was an assistant coach at Syracuse for a year before joining ODU in 2019.
Along the way, she had to overcome many obstacles. Whenever she faced adversity, her family stepped in and supported her.
As a child, she nearly drowned – she was not breathing and had no pulse when she was pulled from a community pool. Her mother never left her in the hospital and took care of her.
A latecomer to basketball, she was nonetheless a dominant talent in college, but didn’t play, she said, because of “politics.”
Milton-Jones shares a laugh with Michela Jones, daughter of former ODU Board of Visitors Rector Lisa Smith
Undaunted, she began walking to practice at her high school, a team her sister played on. The coach invited her to train with the team.
“She saw something in me,” she said. “And I’m so grateful that he did.”
Not that she would have been allowed to quit.
“If it weren’t for those moments of defeat, which I haven’t allowed to define me, I’ve allowed them to fuel me, I wouldn’t be where I am,” she said. declared.
“My mum isn’t like a lot of parents today. There was some reluctance about how my mum raised us. I stuck it out and I’m better today.”
The ABL folded midway through the season and Milton-Jones was in a mall in Gainesville, Florida with her hands full of clothes when she received a phone call telling her the league had filed for bankruptcy. and that she wouldn’t have any more. pay checks.
“I went to put everything back on the shelves,” she said. She struggled to make ends meet until about six months later when the WNBA held its annual draft.
“It was scary because I didn’t know what was in store for me next.”
When she came to coach at ODU, she did so in the midst of the pandemic. It took several months before she could meet many of her players face to face.
“There were obstacles that I had to face in my career and in my life,” she said. “And I used those moments not to define myself, but as fuel to push myself beyond where I am now.
She will thank her mother, her sister and so many other family members and friends at the banquet on Saturday. And she will especially thank her husband, Roland Jones, assistant coach of the ODU.
Roland and DeLisha met when she was playing in Florida and he was a junior college freshman visiting campus. He flirted with her and she told him – “I have a boyfriend.”
Milton-Jones is hugged by ODU Senior Associate Athletic Director Carolyn Crutchfield
She didn’t really. She was just shy.
Years later, while she was playing for the Sparks, he wrote her a long letter reminding her of that encounter and telling her how much he thought of her and wanted to date her.
They have been a couple ever since.
“It’s awesome to be able to take a journey like my life has been and share it with someone you love,” she said.
For years they were separated by distance as she played in one city and Roland in another. This included the summers, when they both played in Europe.
Eventually, he started following her career by getting jobs wherever she played.
“Having him in my corner, pushing me when I want to give up, holding me back when I want to go too far and too hard, it’s really helped me,” she said.
“It’s a living movie. We are Love and Basketball. We fell in love with the sport and stayed in love through the sport. He’s a person who saw something in me a long time ago. was my second year in the WNBA, that’s when we started to get serious.
“He said to me, ‘Hey, you can have longevity but you’re going to have to become more versatile. I didn’t understand what he was saying because I thought I was there just to bounce back and defend.
“He said, ‘No, you need to work on your attacking game. strokes.
“He was like, ‘That’s how NBA guys do it. That’s how they think. If you can change things in your game, it will help you later.
“I listened as we embarked on a journey together, and here I am, a Hall of Famer. And I have to thank him.
“Because he was him in the gym shooting with me, putting up with my rants when I didn’t want to become a three-point shooter and when I didn’t want to handle the ball and I was frustrated because it just didn’t work. didn’t happen for me in the gym that day. I was kicking the ball all over the gym, insulting him, and he was just patient with me.
“He’s my buddy, my friend. He’s everything to me.
The same goes for his family, who came to Knoxville dressed in Florida-themed jerseys and his number 8. They came with dozens of supplements, which they plan to distribute to ODU officials and donors who will be meeting with her on Saturday evening.
“I knew it was going to be something special,” she said. “But until I got here, I had no idea how special it would be.
“I didn’t know what to expect. My family, and my ODU family, are going to make it even more special.”