Brooklyn native Crystal Jones played hoops in middle school and high school as well as in a summer league, but she saw her life change after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 21. It appeared basketball was part of her past, but organized hoops have re-entered her life in a big way.
“For me, basketball was an outlet and a place where you could go to have fun with your friends. It also taught you some life-changing experiences,” said Jones, 27.
As City University of New York (CUNY) developed its organized wheelchair basketball program (comprised from students across CUNY), she was approached by one of the coaches to join the team. The team practices at Hostos Community College, where Jones is now in her third semester pursuing a liberal arts degree with plans to eventually earn a bachelor’s in psychology.
“I looked at it as a second chance,” said Jones. “For me, to get back out there on the court, it’s therapeutic. This reminds me that basketball is an inclusive sport, no matter your physical limitation. It’s exciting to play competitively.”
She enjoyed a road trip with the team, playing in a tournament at the University of Illinois, where she said the level of competition was high. There are new things to learn in wheelchair basketball in terms of technique and conditioning.
A difference between stand-up and wheelchair basketball is the camaraderie.
“To meet such wonderful people,” Jones said. “In stand-up basketball, it’s just competition, but here because it’s a small but growing community, there is so much to learn and everyone is so open to teach you. Even though we’re competing, it’s a bond.”
Jones described a moment during a game when someone on her team fell out of her chair. Even the opponents came to help her up. At the end, everyone clapped and laughed before switching back to competition mode.
While it was initially difficult to readjust to being a college student, she’s been able to get into the groove thanks to the support system at Hostos. “You have the resources you need to be successful,” Jones said. “Coming in as a student with a disability, the accommodations that they met me with were mind-blowing.
“When I first got sick, there were a couple of years where I sat and thought, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’” she added. “This is the answer. I get back into school, I get my degree and I can have a career.”