Shooting Star

Thundering Herd star Jon Elmore has big dreams of playing in the NBA, so you better catch him while you can.

By Keith Morehouse

Jon Elmore

Jon Elmore’s college basketball career was born on March 20, 2014, at the Charleston Civic Center. Huntington Highlanders Head Coach Ron Hess remembers it well.

It was the quarterfinals of the high school state basketball tournament Hess was about to lead his team out onto the floor to face Elmore and the George Washington Patriots. Hess taut expression spoke to the task at hand. There are always nerves before a game but this was state tournament nerve-wracking. There were the usual “Go Highlanders” well-wishes from the stands. But then he heard a question that would bedevil his team all night, “What are you going to do about Jon Elmore?”

Hess’ reply was only partly sarcastic: “Do you have any advice?”

The Highlanders seemed to have the answer in the first half, holding Elmore to just 9 points. For Elmore though, the thought of this being his final two quarters of high school basketball motivated him for a second half to remember. He scored 31 points to total 40 for the night. Huntington won 72-64, but Elmore had put on quite a show.

“He’s one of the most basketball-savvy players I’ve ever coached against,” Hess said. “He was always two steps ahead of everybody else. I remember in the second half we were trying to deny him the basketball on the inbounds play and I put three guys on him. He got the ball anyway.”

Elmore won the 2014 Evans Award as the West Virginia player of the year, just as his father Gay did at South Charleston in 1982. Gay Elmore was a college star at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and left as the school’s then all-time leading scorer with 2,422 points. Jon Elmore would follow his father, accepting a scholarship offer to play there.

But during his freshman year, family ties dictated that Jon needed to come back home. His grandfather was sick and Jon wanted to be closer to him. He left Lexington, Virginia, without ever taking the floor for the Keydets.

“I had no idea how good he was,” Marshall Head Coach Dan D’Antoni said. A fellow Marshall Hall of Famer tossed D’Antoni an assist for which he’ll be forever grateful.

Jon Elmore

“Greg White called me and told me he could play,” D’Antoni recalled. “He’s a voice I give great credibility to. He said, ‘Dan you have to take him.’”

Elmore walked on at Marshall in 2015, unable to play on scholarship because VMI wouldn’t release him from his letter of intent.

“My favorite thing was taken away from me,” Elmore said. “I was like ‘Man I’m going to get to be as good as I can be.’ I was frustrated.”

So going completely against his grain, Elmore had to sit, and watch and wait. When he finally suited up for his first game in a Marshall uniform, it was a modest debut. He scored 5 points but the Herd finished the season 15-10 with him in the lineup. He averaged 15 points per game and nearly 6 assists. Marshall had found itself another dazzling point guard.

One byproduct of coming to Huntington for Elmore was the chance to play for someone who had coached his favorite NBA player, Steve Nash. Dan D’Antoni was on his brother Mike’s staff at Phoenix during Nash’s NBA Most Valuable Player season.

“It’s huge,” Elmore says of Dan D’Antoni’s relationship with Nash. “He was coaching him every day, watching him workout, and breaking down film with him. He worked with my favorite player every day. You have to pay attention to all of that.”

Coach Dan D’Antoni says he sees some similarities between Elmore and Nash.

“I was talking to an NBA coach,” Dan D’Antoni said, “and I said he’s got a lot of Steve Nash in him. He’s pretty brave. He’ll take his body up in there and mix it up. Jon takes risks, and so did Nash — not just taking risks to take risks — but calculated risks. That comes from studying the game. He takes his destiny into his own hands.”

Jon Elmore

Elmore elevated his game last season, leading Conference USA in points (19.7) and assists (5.9) and earning first team All-Conference USA honors. He also made the C-USA All-Academic team.

Elmore decided to see how his game would translate at the next level by putting his name in the NBA draft earlier this year. Because he didn’t hire an agent, he was able to retain his eligibility by taking his name out after receiving some NBA evaluations.

“Basketball is my passion,” Elmore said. “I’ve dedicated my life to it. My goal is to play professional basketball. I don’t want to work a day in my life. I don’t consider going to the gym working.”

On the day he withdrew his name from the NBA draft, Elmore also found out he regained another year of eligibility after VMI finally released him from his letter of intent. So he could have two years of eligibility left to play for the Herd. He plans to make the most of it.

“I want to leave a legacy,” Elmore said. “I want my jersey in the rafters and an NCAA banner in the rafters.”

Herd fans should savor Elmore’s now junior season. In the basketball game of chess that Elmore constantly plays in his mind, he’s already proven himself to be a player who stays a couple of moves ahead of the game.

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