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Inking the closure: How a DU basketball player finds peace through art, hoops, and mentorship

Jordan "Jojo" Jones lost her father and brother at a young age. She uses her love for tattoos and basketball to overcome adversity, with help from a family friend.

DENVER — A tattoo is forever, and that's exactly the way Denver sophomore guard Jordan "JoJo" Jones wants it.

"My most recent one was a Tiger and this year on the back of my leg (1965) that is my dad's birth year," she said.

Forever is the perfect amount of time to keep her father's memory etched into her skin, after he died from the effects of an embolism in 2013.

"Big Will," as they called him, stays stride for stride with the Pioneer guard as she streaks down the court on a fast break. He's not far from some other important reminders.

Credit: KUSA Sports
Tattoo on the right leg of Jordan JoJo Jones in honor of her late father Big Will. The year 1965 was his birth year.

"I wrote 'Patience' [on my shoe]," she said. "It's for a lot of things, patience for the progress that we've tried to make as a team, and patience for myself, mostly within the game, not trying to force things, just playing my own game and not letting anyone beat me up or anything. And then I wrote 'DJ' who's my brother who passed away, whose number was 21. So that's also on the bottom."

Patience is certainly a virtue, but Jordan needed something more consistent and tangible in her life to keep her focused through adverse times.

"I think basketball has definitely helped me," she said. "I tried to stay pretty busy as a kid and that really helped, and then again, I have a great family, and a lot of friends who are always there for me and always so considerate. I would say basketball was kind of my outlet.

It also helps to have family -- and family friends -- close by.

Marquelle Dent is an assistant coach for the DU women's basketball team, but she's also a close family friend with Jordan. Marquelle's dad Sean played alongside Big Will on the Wyoming Cowboys men's basketball team. When Jordan's family moved back to Wyoming from California following Will's death, Marquelle became the assistant to Jordan's mom Andy, helping to take care of her three kids.

"It was difficult at times, her and her sister and her brother were all in their teen years, and I was just finishing up college and trying to keep them on the straight-and-narrow," Marquelle said. "Being an athlete myself, I just tried to let them focus more on basketball and sports and use that as an outlet."

Now the two are in their second year together with the Pioneers, learning to fill the roles of coach and player.

"It was an adjustment the first year, just trying to take a step back and let her find her way through the journey," Marquelle said. "I'm just really proud of her. She's dealt with a lot of adversity, losing her brother and losing her dad, so to see her journey come all the way to Denver and for me to be a part of that journey, it's really cool it means a lot."

That support system is never far with Marquelle only one seat away on the bench.

"Just trying to be as supportive as I can be, be her biggest fan, and help her in any way I can."

Credit: KUSA Sports
Marquelle Dent (left) and Jordan JoJo Jones (right) sit on the bench of the Denver women's basketball game vs Wyoming.

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