Milton-Jones Deserves Recognition

07 April 2010
By Paul Nilsen

When it comes to taking things for granted in life I hold my hands up in shame as being a regular offender. Similarly when it comes to taking the contributions of certain basketball players for granted I'm just as bad and in the case of Ros Casares veteran Delisha Milton-Jones - guilty in the first degree.

Thankfully I can at least take comfort from the fact that I feel able to share this burden of guilt since I am not the only one who has sinned. In comparison to other players with a similar or even lesser resume, there has been a failure by many to clamber onto the rooftops and shout about one of the most durable and successful players in a generation.

When the forward steps out onto the floor this weekend, she will be playing in her fifth EuroLeague Women Final Four having also made it with Ekaterinburg, Brno and Parma. A two-time champion, she is eager to pick up a third title and something which would further bolster an already glittering list of honours.

Recognition for any athlete is important - whatever they may tell you. While some people might have a case in pointing to perennial appearances in the EuroLeague Women All Star game as recognition enough of her efforts, in comparison to many of her peers Milton-Jones has never quite been sprinkled with the same kind of stardust.  It's an issue that even the player herself doesn't know the answer to.

"I've always pondered that question relentlessly over the years." explained Milton-Jones.

"I've always led any team I've played for in multiple statistical categories and we were successful every time. Being in five final four's with four different teams is no easy feat."

"Granted, I've played alongside great Europeans but I've never gotten the individual recognition I have probably deserved. I've never been the type of person that sings her own praise or demand the spotlight. I've always wanted my play on the floor to speak for me."

"Maybe I should shoot the game winning shot with two people defending as oppose to passing to my teammate who is open. Being unselfish usually doesn't get you the individual glory in the end."

The medal haul and numbers that Milton-Jones has managed to accumulate over the years undoubtedly ranks her as one of the best All Time players to have played in Europe. If an All Decade team was being chosen you would be hard pushed to ignore her efforts.

When it comes to EuroLeague Women, her contribution has been truly special since she is a paid-up member of a very exclusive club - something she could have never imagined when she began her career back at College in Florida during the mid-nineties.

"It's true, I would be very honoured to be considered by anybody as one of the all time best players in Europe. It would be pleasing to finally receive some type of recognition."

"I remember the first time I did something special in Europe by leading Euroleague Women in scoring and rebounding and no one really said anything. I think there have only been three people to ever accomplish that and I never quite understood how an accomplishment could have been quite so easily overlooked."

"However I guess that I never set any goals to be MVP or to achieve individual accolades when I set off in my career. I set goals that were always geared towards the team being successful more than myself."

"I feel that me playing 100 percent for the team will bring me whatever is deserved and because of this personal philosophy, I've achieved what I have today at this point in my career."

"To be totally honest, back in College I never imagined anything remotely similar to what I'm experiencing now. I was just happy to go to school and play ball."

While still on the topic of achievement, I suggest to Milton-Jones that I will probably upset others around Europe by asking if she feels a greater sense of achievement knowing she has won titles on a team who don't have quite the same number of imports or passport players.

Typically she just laughs when I reluctantly ask the question claiming "Well, the truth hurts but it will always set you free." - before proceeding to encourage me to be frank - something she gladly reciprocates.

"Yes, I feel special to know that I've done something incredible the hard way but if I had the opportunity that others have with passports then believe me, I would have jumped on it too."

One of the most admirable qualities of Milton-Jones has been her capacity to play at the highest level. Look at her ability to contribute serious numbers and you recognise it is phenomenal at any age, let alone 35 years old.

While her durability remains her main strength, behind this lies her dedication and the discipline required to keep her body and mind in the best shape possible. Making it a little easier is the fact that she is something of a self-confessed domestic goddess which certainly helps her quest for serious longevity on the floor.

"I'm very spiritual and I've been bred to believe that cleanliness is next to Godliness. Some people function well thru organized chaos. The Virgo in me will not allow that to happen. I need order so that I can focus clearly on whatever I'm doing."

"I've always trained hard but after a knee injury years ago, I've learned to train smarter. I'm a health fanatic. I lift weights all the time as well as stretching and eating healthy meals."

She bursts out laughing when she adds "I feel as if I'm the sexiest woman I know and I can say this with confidence because my husband strongly agrees with that statement!"

To remain at the elite level when you have the unwelcomed tag of veteran hanging around your neck doesn't just take an attention to detail off the court. The forward, also highlights her willingness to adapt her game from a technical  perspective as central to her continued success.

"I really want to thank Gianni Bertollossi from Parma Italy for giving me my first professional job in Europe. There is where I started my quest to return every year with something new added to my game. With my husband being a point guard, he has also helped me tremendously."

"At one point I could only play inside the paint and over the years I slowly started to extend my game and make it more expansive. It was necessary to do this because I could see the game changing quickly."

"Players coming out of College were getting bigger, stronger and very versatile. If I wanted to keep a job, I needed to get better in many areas."

Moving onto the topic of EuroLeague Women Final Four 2010 and a sense of business and purpose is instinctively instilled into Milton-Jones. While she adores the tournament, that extension of love can't be spread to the entire experience off the court. For her, this is truly the business end of the season.

"Each EuroLeague Women Final Four is special in its own way. It's like the Olympics - words will never do it justice."

"You have to experience it for yourself in order to truly know. Seriously, EuroLeague Women Final Four is the best for me. Its either do or die, win or go home and my all time favourite -barbecue or mildew."

"I would love to chill with other players and tour the hot spots in the city, but its all about business at this point. Everyone will be focused on winning more than on being a tourist."

She is also experienced enough to know that any game is tough at Final Four but with the two Russian giants paired up, Ros Casares have a great opportunity against Wisla Can-Pack.

In some ways it could mean a little more pressure for the host team with everyone pretty much expecting a Ros Casares win but Milton-Jones isn't one to get involved in any pre-game hype.

"The game between the Russians will definitely be a must see match-up but our game against Wisla Can-Pack won't be a cake walk at all. Every team involved has a legitimate chance at winning."

"Everyone else's expectations mean absolutely nothing to me. I'm only focused on what's happening in our locker room."

"Expectations are distractions in disguise to me. The only expectation I have is to leave my all on the court and let the chips fall where they may."

"At this point it doesn't matter who you could possible face because everyone is dangerous"

One thing she definitely subscribes to is the spirit and togetherness of a tight-knit Ros Casares team - a factor she believes will be pivotal in helping them realise their ambitions.

"I definitely feel that our togetherness is our key to success. My teammates are the greatest. I've thoroughly enjoyed them over the past four years. We have all grown up together."

Then just when you think she is done, she smiles and briefly remembers her senior status within the squad and laughs again before clarifying,

"Or maybe I should say I've watched them grow up!"

In Part Two: Milton-Jones speaks candidly about her International heartache, the evolution of Euroleague, the WNBA and a move into coaching.

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