Three years ago, Kent State basketball redshirt sophomore forward Jimmy Hall was sitting inside a New York jail cell.
He had gone from being one of the best players on the Hofstra University basketball team to a criminal in a matter of months.
Hall and three of his teammates had been part of an on-campus theft ring. They started off stealing small electronics such as iPhones during the fall semester of 2012. Eventually, they were taking laptops from fellow students and even reportedly from their own coach, Mo Cassara.
Three years ago, it looked as if Hall’s basketball career — and possibly a lot more — was over.
Hall was charged with four counts of second-degree burglary and held on a $20,000 bond, $10,000 in cash. Immediately removed from Hofstra’s program, he eventually transferred to ASA Community College.
“We were just kids who weren’t doing the right thing,” Hall said. “We got caught up in something we weren’t supposed to do, stealing, just knucklehead things. We definitely paid the price for it, and I learned my lesson.”
A second chance from Kent State changed Hall’s life — and Kent State’s basketball fortunes.
“(That situation) was a chance for me to be a man, and grow up and deal with the consequences,” Hall said. “I learned that everything that you do, negative or positive, it comes with a consequence. When you’re of age, you’re not a kid anymore, and with things like that, they’ll really come down on you. I was just fortunate to have a second chance and I know now not to do that ever again.”
Kent State coach Rob Senderoff knew Hall’s Amateur Athletic Union coach, who told him Hall wasn’t a bad person and suggested that Kent State check out him out. Shortly after, Senderoff sent assistant coach Bobby Steinburg to New York.
“Everybody you bring in is a risk,” Steinburg said. “We’ve had a lot of success with guys who are nonconventional recruits or guys who had a hiccup one place and have been able to come here and revive their career, so to speak.”
Kent State coaches hoped Hall would follow the same path of All-MAC players Antonio Gates and Chris Evans, who had trouble at their first colleges before enrolling in Kent State.
Learning from a legend
Hall is a product of St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, and played for legendary high school coach Bob Hurley, the father of current Buffalo head coach of the same name.
During his junior season, Hall, a Brooklyn native, helped the Friars to a 32-0 record and a consensus national championship.
“It was a great experience playing for a legendary coach, a Hall of Famer,” Hall said. “He really taught me to play with a lot of effort, a lot of enthusiasm. If I learned anything, it’s just to work as hard as I can on the floor and just play as hard as you can.”
Hall’s play in high school earned him a multitude of scholarship offers. Prior to the start of his senior season, Hall committed to play at Hofstra.
“I really liked the coaching staff, and I liked the home feel,” Hall said. “They came over to my house, and I just really thought that it was a good position for me to be in and play right away.”
Through seven games of the season, Hall led the team in both points (12.7) and rebounds (9.4). But that would be all the games he would get to play in a Pride jersey.
Hall, along with teammates Dallas Anglin, Kentrell Washington and Shaquille Stokes, were immediately suspended for the season and eventually kicked out of school following their arrest in Nassau County.
Moving on with the Flashes
Kent State was the first team to contact Hall after leaving Hofstra, and it seemed liked a good fit for him.
He decided that it would be best to attend Kent State and redshirt for a year.
“I knew I didn’t want to keep playing (junior college basketball),” Hall said. “I thought it would be a good idea to get away from the city because my school was in New York, and my mom didn’t really like me being in the city that much. So I thought it was a great pick for me.”
NCAA transfer rules stated that Hall could practice but not play his first year at Kent State. During that time, Hall watched, learned and got accustomed to the system he would be playing in for the next three years of his basketball career. At the same time, he envisioned just how much better the team could be if he was out on the floor.
“I thought that last year’s team worked real hard,” Hall said. “Honestly, I just felt that it was just missing me. I just felt that if I were playing, I could give a bigger impact for the team. I feel like we played well last year. We weren’t terrible. It was just a couple games we couldn’t really pull out.”
Basketball star Jimmy Hall given second chance at Kent State from KentWired.com on Vimeo.
The Flashes were 16-16 (7-11 MAC) and lost in the first round of the MAC tournament that season. It was Kent State’s worst showing since 1998.
That summer, with most of the team returning, Hall had high expectations for both himself and his teammates.
“I just wanted to get strong, get faster and really just…prove myself,” Hall said. “I know a lot of people that looked up to me at Hofstra, and I just wanted to prove myself and that I’m supposed to be out there playing and producing and trying to help the team win a championship.”
Looking to finish the season strong
Through the first half of the season, Hall was everything the Flashes needed him to be. He dominated night in and night out and was the one of the frontrunners in the conference’s Player of the Year race.
The Flashes were at the top of the conference and didn’t look like they were going to slow down. But following a blowout road loss to Buffalo, the Flashes announced that Hall had been diagnosed with mononucleosis and had no set return date.
“It hurt just watching, especially the Akron game, but I saw a lot of things from my teammates,” Hall said. “I also took a lot from it watching my teammates play. I took it as a learning experience. It wasn’t all negative. I was just trying to back and get better.”
The Flashes went 3-2 without their star player and held on the top spot in the MAC.
“Everybody stepped up and played a bigger role. Our seniors (Kris Brewer, Derek Jackson and Devareaux Manley) — and Chris Ortiz, he played great during that stretch,” Hall said.
The Flashes claimed a share of the regular season MAC championship and received the third seed in the MAC tournament. But with high expectations for himself and his teammates, Hall said he still feels like the job isn’t done.
“I expect us to go 100 percent and play with a championship effort,” Hall said. “We plan on winning the MAC tournament.”
Hall said he is optimistic about the next two years of his career with the Flashes despite Brewer, Jackson and Manley all set to graduate after this season.
“I feel like we can just keep this thing going and keep winning,” Hall said. “We got a lot of guys that’s leaving, but we definitely get picked up by (returners) Kellon Thomas, Xavier Pollard and Marvin Jones. Those are going to be really big pieces for us next year.”
Thomas missed most of their season with an injury; Pollard is a transfer from Maine, where he was an All-America East third-team player; and Jones is a transfer from Highland Community College in Illinois and redshirted this season.
A second chance legacy
Hall said he understands that he has been given a second chance to play the sport that he loves, and he doesn’t take it for granted.
“Coach (Rob) Senderoff gave me a second chance, and I’m grateful, and I’m going to take the most out of this opportunity and prove myself,” Hall said. “I let a lot of people down, and I don’t want that feeling ever again.
Senderoff knows a thing or two about second chances. The coach himself was forced to resign as the assistant coach at Indiana in 2007 after violating NCAA recruiting rules by making impermissible phone calls to recruits. Indiana’s then-head coach, Kelvin Sampson, was later fired.
“Everybody deserves a second chance, and it’s really up to you what you make of that second chance,” Senderoff said. “At this point, Jimmy has made good of his second chance in terms of what he’s done off the court and in terms of what he’s done on the court. Sometimes you make mistakes in life. Hopefully you learn from them and move forward from that point.”
Contact Stephen Means II at [email protected]