VILLANOVA, Pa. -- In basketball terms, JayVaughn Pinkston arrived at Villanova far more mature than many of his peers.
Defying the illogic upon which so many basketball players are reared, Pinkston did not think he was going to be a one-and-done. Heck, he was pretty sure he wasn't going to be a two-and-done. He knew his doughy body would need to be introduced to weights and cut into shape. He guessed that what he considered hard work really wasn't too hard or much work. And he figured that before he could be a star, he'd have to find a role.
It was everywhere else that Pinkston needed to grow up. Only thing, Pinkston didn't know it. He saw himself as a college student and therefore a man; he even told his mother, Kerry, as much.
But Pinkston mistook age for maturity, and a new address for manhood.
Five long, hard years later, a different JayVaughn Pinkston takes a seat inside the basketball team's theater room. The baby fat is gone -- Pinkston figures he has lost somewhere around 60 pounds since he first arrived -- and so too is the baby.
A college career that started with a yearlong suspension and was nearly ended by a life-threatening infection has produced a player and a person who finally understands what it is to be a man.
"I've waited a long time for this year, a long time,'' Pinkston said. "I didn't think it would be easy, but I never thought it would be this hard. I hope this year is it. I hope this year is my moment.''
Pinkston's first big moment at Villanova was unforgettable, even if he prefer it not be so memorable.
In November 2010, just months into his freshman year, Pinkston was arrested and charged with assault after a fight off campus.
Pinkston was immediately barred from basketball and once officially charged, and following a disciplinary review, he was suspended from Villanova for the spring semester. The university allowed him to finish his first-semester course work, but he never played for the Wildcats that year.
Barred also from campus per university policy, Pinkston had no access to the practice facilities and could only watch the Wildcats in games when they were held at the downtown Wells Fargo Center.
It was a severe punishment that sent Pinkston reeling.
"That's the first time anything like that had happened to me,'' he said. "And that's a big one for an 18-year-old kid. I saw my life, everything I had worked for, flash before my eyes. I thought I was done.''
Back home in Brooklyn, Pinkston's mom was as worried as she was angry. JayVaughn is Kerry's only son and she spent her whole life working whatever job she could land -- at a bank, in insurance, in retail and currently as a security officer -- to support him.
Kerry sent Pinkston, a McDonald's All-American and New York's player of the year, to Villanova with one mandate: Go one step further than she did and get a college degree.
She sheepishly admits that, even after all these years, she doesn't know all that much about basketball. She leaves that part to the coaches.
The rest, she figures, is her job.
Which is why she was so disappointed when she learned of the fight.
"My initial reaction was, 'He has to come home,' but then I never taught JayVaughn to run from his responsibilities,'' Kerry said. "He thought being grown meant being angry and reacting. He had to learn that you don't always react. Sometimes reacting is not the best thing. I told him, 'I can rant and rave all I want, but you have to be responsible for yourself. Do you understand what I'm saying?'"
Pinkston could have transferred. He had yet to play in a college game and his eligibility clock hadn't started ticking. Villanova coach Jay Wright, in fact, thought he would and even went so far as to give him his blessing.
"I thought the penalty was really severe,'' Wright said. "I understand why Villanova had to do it, but I thought it was very severe, given the facts. So I told him, 'If you're bitter and you want to go elsewhere, I'll support you.' He looked at me and said, 'No, I'm going to stay.' And that really shocked me. It really did.''
Pinkston admits at first he was tempted, but his mother's voice and the lessons that she and his uncle Kamani Young had passed on rang in his head.
"I realized,'' he said, "that I did this to myself, so I had to deal with it.''
The question was how to deal with it. Both Kerry and Wright agreed that sending him home, with no basketball and no job, was a bad idea. But he couldn't stay on campus either, and at 18, he couldn't very well live on his own. Under NCAA rules, the university could do nothing to support him. NCAA rules also prohibited Pinkston from receiving assistance from a booster or anyone associated with the school.
After careful consulting with the compliance office, and what Wright called a lengthy search, Pinkston moved in with Matt and Christy O'Reilly, people who knew nothing about him and whose only attachment to Villanova was through Wright's kids -- they all attended school together.
Pinkston got a job at a nearby warehouse stacking boxes, hired a driver to get him back and forth, and paid rent to the O'Reillys. By NCAA rule, he had to pay the going rate for a one-bedroom apartment in the zip code in which he was living.
On the posh Main Line of Philadelphia, that was pretty steep.
"I had no money left over,'' Pinkston said.
He did, however, have structure. (The O'Reillys, who have three kids, have become a second family to Pinkston. They, however, prefer to remain in the background and through Wright, declined comment.) And more, he had a reality check.
"I knew I wasn't ready for the real world,'' he said. "I just wanted to play basketball.''
For three years, that's exactly what Pinkston did, burnishing his reputation as the sort of accomplished yet blue-collar player Wright has built his program on.
Pinkston's numbers increased every year, from 9.6 points and 5.2 rebounds as a freshman to 14.1 and 6.1 as a junior.
More important, he kept his nose clean and last May was accepted into an Accelerated Rehabilitation Disposition (ARD) program. Essentially, if Pinkston stays out of trouble and meets other court requirements, his record will be cleared.
Then at the end of last summer, Pinkston traveled home to visit his mother. He turned his ankle playing basketball, so when his foot and leg swelled up, he thought nothing of it.
Except instead of getting better, it got worse, swelling more each day and feeling warm to the touch. He went to an area hospital and they told him it was just the ankle sprain. A day later he returned to Villanova and asked the team physician to check his leg.
"He felt my leg and said it was warm," Pinkston said. "Then he pushed on my leg and puss just started flowing out of my leg.''
Pinkston was sent directly to a hospital. An ultrasound showed no blood clots, but what they did discover was equally scary. Pinkston had a dangerous MRSA infection and needed an emergency operation.
Other than a few bouts with asthma, Pinkston had never had a health scare, certainly not one this serious. He knew enough about MRSA to know that in some cases, people have lost limbs. Just as he did when he was arrested, he briefly wondered if his career was over.
His mother rushed down to Philadelphia from Brooklyn, crying, she said, the entire way.
Fortunately the infection hadn't spread to Pinkston's bloodstream; in less than a week, he was released from the hospital.
"There were times I thought, 'This can't be happening. You've got to be kidding,''' Pinkston said. "But tough people always last. That's what I kept telling myself.''
As soon as he crosses the doorstep into his mother's home, Pinkston immediately reverts to his middle school years. In Kerry's eyes, he will always be a little boy, and on the rare occasion that her son is home, she happily dotes on him.
He appreciates it, but he's also trying to gently cut the cord. Kerry is trying. For example, she says proudly, she used to call him every day; now it's just a text every other day.
Only thing is, you can't ever really wean a mother off motherhood.
"So mother's instincts, I go out and I buy him some shirts and some underwear,'' Kerry said. "You know what he told me the other day? He said, 'Ma, you can no longer buy me underwear.' I said, 'Are you serious?' He was serious. He was laughing at me. He said, 'Ma, you can't.''
Kerry once said she would let go when Pinkston hit 21. Now that he's 23, she's holding out for 25. But her son knows -- and so does she, even if she isn't ready to admit it -- that the time to let go is now.
JayVaughn Pinkston has grown up.