Riceboro, GA -- DeLisha Milton-Jones recalls growing up in Riceboro constantly competing with all her cousins as they played in the yard, climbed trees and playing basketball at several local gyms. Back then she said she was a scrawny young girl weighing roughly 115 pounds and competing against boys and even a few soldiers from Fort Stewart.
“I would get my butt kicked left and right,” she said. She said her uncle insisted she play and ask to be on somebody’s team. “My coming out party was when this guy went up to make a layup and I just pinned his shot on the backboard and the whole gym just stopped.”
Milton-Jones said after that moment everyone wanted her on their team.
“I never looked back after that moment,” she said. “Those were the times that made DeLisha Milton-Jones.”
Milton-Jones said her competitive nature and her zest for life comes from her grandmother who just turned 95-years old and was part of her trip back home this past weekend.
The two-time Olympic gold medalists and WNBA veteran said all 27 grandchildren came together to celebrate her grandmother’s life while also mourn the recent loss of her uncle.
“It’s always wonderful coming back home,” she said. “There is so much humility attached to this city and its people. Everyone knows everyone and whenever I come back home it is this feeling of nostalgia. I feel so welcomed and there is a lot of peace and tranquility attached to this area. Of course, there is good food, good people and good times.”
Milton-Jones graduated from Bradwell Institute and played collegiate basketball at the University of Florida. After graduating in 1997 Milton-jones was among the pioneers of women athletes establishing professional basketball leagues.
“We were the pioneers of that league,” she said. “I left the University of Florida in 1997 and there were two leagues in existence, the American Basketball League (ABL) and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). I chose the ABL because they were paying more money and had a longer season and it matched the NBA schedule. The WNBA was just during the summer time and there was a lot of glitz and glamour around it.”
However, Milton-Jones said the WNBA got extensive TV coverage and soon the ABL folded. “I was drafted into the WNBA through a dispersal draft.” Milton-Jones ended up having what she called a long and illustrious 17-year career in the WNBA. Milton-Jones played on five different WNBA teams getting 435 game starts from 499 games played averaging 11.2 points per game and 5.2 rebounds per game.
In 2000 and 2008 Milton-Jones was representing the United States on the women’s Olympic basketball team, both times earning the gold medals.
“In that moment you are standing there and you are saying to yourself it took four years for me to get to this moment,” she said recalling her first gold medal moment in 2000. “This is what I was working for. This is the pinnacle of my work. Everything has come to fruition. All of the sacrifices, fighting through the injuries, choosing to go to the gym rather than go out and have fun with friends and family. All of that culminates to you being a champion. And not just on some platform but the top tier of all tiers when it comes to an athlete and winning something that is tremendous.”
Milton-Jones is currently the head coach for the women’s basketball team at Old Dominion in Virginia.
She said when she first became a head coach at Pepperdine College she said it took some time to transition from being the competitive athlete to mentor and coach.
“For me it was a minor adjustment because of the aggressiveness and the emotions that I played with, you can’t necessarily coach with that,” she said. “You have to learn how to explain yourself rather than express yourself.”
She said once she made the necessary adjustments her coaching achievements and winning record improved drastically.
Milton-Jones said she likes to encourage the next generation to go out and try for all they wish for but do so while still with self-kindness.
“When you are an athlete and you are trying to do your best to be the best there is something that is important along the way that you have to learn how to do for yourself during this process,” she said. “That is to show yourself grace. While you are working hard and while you are working to get that jump shot right or be faster or be stronger. It is not going to happen overnight. You have to leave some wiggle room for you to fall, trip up, have a setback or two. It is all about how you react to those situations. So, show yourself grace during those moments so you can pick yourself back up and now you may even go further than expected because you’ve learned something through this journey.”
Milton-Jones added she wants to help people become the best they can be.
“I want to enrich and empower people,” she said.