BOSTON –- It looked like any pair of basketball sneakers sitting just in front of Milton’s bench as they took on New Mission at TD Garden in the Division 2 Emass. Finals on Tuesday night. The size 12, white Nike Hyperfuse’s with the red and black trim weren’t just an extra pair kicking around for the Wildcats but a rallying point, a reminder, a remembrance and even a dream come true.
Former Wildcat Evan Jones wore those shoes proudly during his playing days at Milton. The memorial prayer card tucked inside bears Jones’ smiling face, remembering a life lost to soon. Jones passed away unexpectedly last fall in his dorm room at UMass Amherst. He was just 19.
The Milton community has had a tough time coming to grips with the loss of its friend, because of his tragic age, and because of the mark he made on the town in that short time.
“He was a great kid from a great family,” said Milton senior captain Cormac Conners. “I haven’t met anyone who was just as nice and as fun as Evan. He’s always going to have a place in my heart and I think everyone on the team and everyone that played with feels the same way. He just had a positive impact on everybody that was around him. Just a great guy.”
“There wasn’t a single kid on our team that didn’t like him," said former teammate and close friend Lucas Shapiro, currently a student manager for the men's basketball team at the University of Missouri. "He was really just universally liked, no matter where he was.”
Throughout the Eastern Mass. Final loss to New Mission, Conners said the shoes helped him and his Wildcats teammates continuously rally and fight back.
“I just really wanted to make him proud tonight, and I think he really would’ve been,” said Conners. “Seeing the shoes over there just made me keep going and fighting.”
Tuesday marked the first time Jones’ shoes had appeared on the bench for the Wildcats this season, at least on the bench for the boys team.
“His sister Ally plays for the girls team here, and every single game they had Evan’s shoes on the end of the bench just to remember him. She approached me and asked if it would be OK if we put them on the end of our bench. We’ve been playing this whole year just to remember Evan, so I was delighted to be able to put them there.”
As a freshman at Milton, Jones trekked to the Garden to see the Wildcats’ varsity squad play on their way to a Division 2 state title, and the experience was one he badly wanted, a dream he hoped to one day live.
“We had seen kids in the same program we were playing in who had been there, who had lived that dream,” said Shapiro, who graduated with Jones. “We had a pretty tough senior year – a lot of potential but we couldn’t put it together and really weren’t very good.”
Even with results pouring in in a way that meant Jones wouldn’t be suiting up at the Garden during his senior year, the desire to play on the Celtics’ parquet never ceased.
“We always talked about how awesome it would be to play at the Garden,” Shapiro remembered.
And because of Conners and his Wildcats teammates, Jones finally was able to see that through.
Said Shapiro, “He was definitely on the bench there tonight.”