On occasion, Billy Jones' granddaughter reminds him of what he'd as soon forget.
"Pop-Pop, you are old," Cleo Pounds will say. That's Jones' cue to dig out his scrapbooks, curl up on the sofa and regale the 8-year-old with sporting tales of yore — from the time he led Towson High to a state basketball championship in 1963 to his college days at Maryland to his run as men's basketball coach at UMBC.
"Because I'm a senior, my grandchildren struggle imagining me to be very active," said Jones, 67, who lives in Orlando, Fla. "They love hearing stories, and I love sharing them. It's important that they know their history."
Grandpa wasn't just any player. When he signed with the Terps 50 years ago Monday, Jones became the first African-American to earn a basketball scholarship in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A year later, on Dec. 1, 1965, he broke the league's color barrier by playing in a game at Penn State. Three days after that, the 6-foot-1 Jones scored his first basket on a running layup in a victory over Wake Forest as 11,300 fans in Cole Field House — then the largest crowd ever for a Maryland home opener — saw history made.
Off the court, he faced blatant racism on trips down Tobacco Road. More than once, the Terps walked out of hotels and restaurants that refused Jones service.
"One night we were to take a late train home from Durham, [N.C.], after a game at Duke," teammate Gary Williams remembered. "At the station, we all piled into the snack bar to eat before boarding. But when they wouldn't serve Billy, we all left."
Such walk-outs became common for Maryland, said Williams, who'd later coach the Terps.
"The guys looked out for me," Jones said. "In Columbia, S.C., [teammates] Gary Ward and Joe Harrington invited me to a pool hall down the street from our hotel. I thought, 'Hmmm. Beer, pool sticks, balls and a black kid. It doesn't mix.' An alarm went off in my head. I told them, 'Thanks, but I need to go study.' I studied a lot on the road, not so much because I wanted to, but because it was the best thing for me."
There were poignant times as well, societal hiccups in the deep south in the 1960s that reminded Jones of his pioneering achievements.
"We were sitting in a hotel restaurant in New Orleans when a black chef came out of the kitchen, shook my hand without saying a word and walked away," he said. "Or I'd be walking through the Charlotte, [N.C.], airport with the team when a bellhop tapped me on the shoulder and gave me a wink as if to say, 'Hey, black guy, keep doin' what you're doin.' "
Those are the stories Jones shares with his heirs.
"I tell the kids, 'Be selfless. Do things that have social impact. Leave a mark that people will remember,' " he said.
His family is fiercely proud of his past. Some years ago, Jones' daughter, Billye, heard a sports talk show host say that Charlie Scott of North Carolina blazed the trail for African-American basketball players in the ACC.
"She pulled her car off the road, phoned the radio station and set them straight," Jones said.
Scott entered North Carolina in 1966. It would take five more years for ACC basketball to fully integrate.
A star in high school
Jones arrived at Maryland prepared for the worst. Discrimination was old-hat for one raised in the black enclave of East Towson.
"I'd already dealt with social issues," he said. "To see a movie, we had to walk past the Towson Theater [on York Road] and catch a bus downtown to the Boulevard [at 33rd and Greenmount]."
While attending Towsontown Junior High School, Jones befriended several white classmates who chose to sit beside him in seventh grade science class.
"The teacher didn't like that," he said. "My buddies caught hell, grade-wise, until they changed desks and moved away. That's kind of hard to deal with when you're 12 years old."