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Dahntay Jones Plays NBA Finals Hero, Still a Rutgers Pariah

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

If you watched Game 6 of the NBA Finals last night, you may have a experienced a slight twinge or tick when a certain player appeared in the first half.  Yes, that was former star Rutgers player Dahntay Jones making a big impact in a big game, scoring 5 points and drawing 2 fouls on Golden State starter Draymond Green.  There is a history between Jones and Green, as Dahntay was fined 10,000 dollars last season for intentionally bumping Green during...wait for it...a television interview.

Jones not only agitated Green like old times last night, but he was a factor on the offensive end during a five minute stretch in the 2nd quarter.

Jones established himself as a NBA first team villain over the years, which included his infamous run-ins with Kobe Bryant.  Heck, Dahntay has been agitating opponents for two decades, as I can attest to that in playing against him in high school. Give credit to Jones for becoming a top flight defender in the league over the past decade, but certain actions on the court over the years have resulted in labeling him as a dirty player.

Of course, none of that has anything to do with why seeing him play in the NBA Finals last night caught my eye. No, it was because Dahntay Jones was once the marquee player in the Rutgers men's basketball program many moons ago.  He is a symbol of what could have been for Rutgers basketball around the turn of the century, only to watch him leave the program prematurely. The fact that Jones left Rutgers to play with childhood friend Jay Williams at Duke made his exit that much more loathsome. It was obviously what he felt was best for him at the time and he has gone on to have a successful career, so I wish him no personal ill will.

However, as a tortured fan of Rutgers basketball, Jones sparks a particular type of ire that dredges up years of frustration. After making the Big East All-Freshman team in 1999 and with the graduation of Geoff Billet, Jones emerged as the local star Rutgers had always been looking for.  He finished his sophomore season averaging 16.0 points a game, which was 7th most in the conference. After Rutgers went 19-13 in his freshman season, the team was 15-11 in late February 2000 with a chance to make the NCAA Tournament if they could string together a few more wins. Instead, Rutgers lost the last five games of Dahntay's career in Piscataway, including a devastating 5 point loss to a ranked UCONN team on senior night at the RAC. (Note: This was my senior year at Rutgers and I missed this game to attend a 400 level Philosophy class that was the hardest I ever took. Let history show I went to the class and finished the semester with a B, graduating on time and making my mother happy. Still doesn't erase the memory of coming home and seeing my friend's faces returning from that game.)

Despite the disappointing finish to the season, there was hope for the 2000-2001 season. Fan favorite Rashod Kent was a rising junior along with Dahntay. Jeff Greer was going to be the senior leader, and Todd Billet was back after a promising freshman campaign. Of course, everything soon fell apart.  Jones jumped ship and went to Duke, taking the air out of that next season. Rutgers went 11-16, the naked free throw scandal blew up, and the once hopeful tenure of head coach Kevin Bannon ended in disgrace. Billet transferred to Virginia soon after and it was a nightmare ending for that period of Rutgers basketball.

The fact that it was Duke that Dahntay left Rutgers for made it particularly upsetting. The fact that he went there to play with Jay Williams, who was so close to attending Rutgers before his mother convinced him to visit Duke, added to the misery.  It felt like Jones gave up on us. He had two years left and many thought he was the star to take Rutgers back to the NCAA tournament.  Leaving for a college basketball blue blood was crushing. I personally felt abandoned, although that is the irrational fan in me. There have been a lot of good players to transfer out of Rutgers, but Dahntay has always been the one that personally hurt me the most.

So good for Dahntay Jones for making a positive impact in an NBA Finals game at the tail end of his career. He stated the primary reason for leaving Rutgers was that the program would not help him get to the next level. So thanks for that recruiting dig out the back door of the RAC. It obviously worked out for him and seeing him last night brought back years of frustration.  Yes, I'm still bitter. Just remember, long before Jones became one of the most infamous players in the NBA, he was breaking Rutgers' fans hearts.