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An assist -- and a big rebound

Riverses made Jones part of the family

Doc Rivers and his wife are the legal guardians of family friend Adam Jones. Doc Rivers and his wife are the legal guardians of family friend Adam Jones. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)
By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / May 8, 2009
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ORLANDO, Fla. - In the aftermath of kidney surgery and dialysis, the uncle had no means to care for the teenager or help financially. The teenager's mother was in Georgia.

Food? A comfortable place to sleep and do homework other than the porch because the front door was locked? Not available.

Adam Jones, however, had one card to play - the family of Celtics coach Glenn "Doc" Rivers.

Rivers's wife, Kris, promised Jones if he was ever in a state of emergency, she was just a phone call away. And since the day he made that call, his life has become a tale only possible in nearby Disney World.

"It's truly a blessing. I love it," Jones said. "I couldn't be in better hands with better people. I'm speechless to how these people opened their doors for me."

It started when Jones, now 18, became close friends with Rivers's son, Austin, while they were playing AAU basketball. The Rivers family regular ly housed AAU players in their Winter Park, Fla., estate. Jones stayed with the family for two summers, but unlike most of the other kids, he didn't have a strong maternal influence in his life.

When it came to the summer, holidays, or many weekends, Jones was usually part of the Rivers family.

"We've known Adam for years," Doc Rivers said. "He spent the last couple Christmases with us, all the holidays. He'd spend the summers with us."

An outside shot
With his single mother unable to take care of him, Jones's uncle took him in when Jones was in the sixth grade. Everything was fine until two years ago, when Jones's uncle had to have his kidneys removed. He was in and out of the hospital.

The uncle told Jones he needed to find outside help.

"It was pretty bad," Jones said. "My uncle was sick. We had a talk and he said to me that he loved me, but there is only so much he can do after he had a transplant. There was nothing he could do. He couldn't work for three or four months and wasn't getting paid."

"Adam would go a couple days without eating," said Kris Rivers. "Anything you would take for granted as a kid was not happening in Adam's life through no fault of his uncle. You have to have the energy to do the things that are not so fun, like yell at him about his homework. 'Have you had a shower?' Those kind of things."

Jones attempted to make it on his own at his uncle's house and didn't tell a soul about his ordeal. Finally, Jones reached out to Kris Rivers.

"From playing AAU with Austin to come here to live with them [during the summers], they treated me like family," Jones said. "She knew my situation and how things went. She told me if she could help to call."

"Adam was a 15-, 16-year-old kid taking care of himself," Kris said. "He would literally say, 'There is nowhere to go. The house is locked up. There is nobody.' "

Doc and Kris Rivers wanted Jones to move in with them. But before they made the decision, they talked to their three sons and daughter and all quickly answered yes. The Riverses got permission from Jones's mother to become his guardian and now call him their son.

Since the move, Jones's life has changed in every way.

"Adam is doing absolutely terrific," Doc Rivers said. "His grades have skyrocketed. And his basketball has improved, which is not as important.

"But I just think that having a stable environment, having three meals a day, he's got confidence now, he feels like he's a smart kid again and basketball-wise he's played well enough that four or five schools are looking at him. It's sensational. If we can get this kid's life right, which we're doing, and get him a free ride to a college, that's a home run."

And Jones said he is giving a lot back to the Riverses, too.

"Just in terms of something as simple as his graciousness," said Kris Rivers, about what Jones is bringing to the family. "He's appreciative. Kids can kind of take things for granted. But with Adam around, he's always reminding us you can't take this for granted."

Coach in his corner
It's not unusual for Doc Rivers to take charter flights from Boston to Orlando to spend time with his family. But even though the trips are infrequent, Rivers and Jones talk on the phone weekly.

"We have a great relationship," Jones said. "He's a great father figure. I can go to him and talk about school, girls, home life."

As a sophomore in the 2007-08 season, Jones started for Orlando Christian Prep's Class 1A state championship team. But with the Riverses living a long distance from the school, Jones transferred to Orlando power Winter Park in the 2008-09 season. Doc's son, Austin, was the star at Winter Park.

According to Florida High School Athletic Association rules, transfer students can't participate in athletics if they change residency to a household associated with a team they want to join unless they demonstrate hardship.

Several coaches complained about Jones's transfer after he received clearance to play, but Jones was ruled ineligible pending a hardship appeal hearing last Oct. 8.

"This gives the kid a sound family environment, which is great; there's no doubt about that," Orlando Cypress Creek coach Terry Howard told the Orlando Sentinel. "But playing for Winter Park, that doesn't smell real good to me. Wouldn't we all like to go out and get a 6-foot-7 kid who can play? From a competition point of view, I don't know if it's fair."

"It was really a couple of coaches, who to me, got a little bit too competitive instead of thinking about the livelihood of a kid," Doc Rivers said. "It's like I told them, the reason we are trying to save Adam's life has nothing to do with [basketball]."

A court ruling
Rivers missed an exhibition game against Philadelphia to attend Jones's hardship hearing. The FHSAA committee unanimously voted to reinstate Jones. After the announcement, Jones and a teary-eyed Kris Rivers embraced.

Jones, who has three older brothers, doesn't have one family member with a college degree. But with solid grades and stellar basketball skills, Jones has been offered scholarships from Fairfield, Iona, Wofford, and Murray State, and is being recruited by South Carolina, Old Dominion, and George Mason.

"I'm leaning toward Fairfield, but I'll see if a better offer comes," Jones said.

Jones will graduate next year and move out of the Riverses' home, but he will be a part of their family forever.

"Everybody knows that when you see a kid smiling and happy, that's what it's all about," Doc Rivers said. "And for us, that's what it's all about."

When asked about Jones going to college, Kris Rivers said, "Gosh, I'm getting choked up even thinking about it. It's been an amazing journey for him and he's accomplished a lot. It will be a new beginning. He will be the first in his family to go to college and to have just a huge opportunity to change a circle of life.

"He will have opportunities to do and be whatever he wants to be. That's the best gift you can give a kid."

Marc J. Spears can be reached at mspears@globe.com

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