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In the process of scoring 1,854 points for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball program -- the third-highest career total in school history behind Alando Tucker (2,217) and Michael Finley (2,147) -- Danny Jones found a comfort zone on the court.

Despite giving up size to taller low-post defenders, the rugged 6-foot-6, 245-pound Jones never had trouble finding the basket.

Finding himself as a student was something quite different.

"I was absolutely lost," he said.

There was no commitment and little or no progress toward academic goals during his final season of eligibility (1989-90).

"I had maybe 100 credits but I didn't have a major," he said, "and I had no idea what I wanted to do, no direction whatsoever."

Twenty years later, Jones, at the age of 41, is taking care of some unfinished business by returning to UW to complete work on his undergraduate degree.

"Being here at all is a commitment, because it wasn't easy getting back into school," he said. "And to leave my family (wife and two kids in Holmen) and come down here and live by myself is no easy task, either. But I knew what I wanted to do, so the sacrifice was worth it."

In 1990, Danny Jones left Madison as the Badgers' all-time leading scorer. The former all-state player from Rockford (Ill.) Boylan High School averaged 15.7 points during his UW career, including 17.7 as a senior when he was the team's most valuable player.

Jones, though, never looked at college basketball as a ticket to the NBA. That was not his mind-set.

"The point is, I never felt like I was going to be set for life (because of basketball)," he said. "But I also didn't know what my alternatives were. I was not going to get a degree -- in a field that I wasn't happy with -- just to have a degree.

"On top of that, during my sophomore year, I lost my mother, which was my only remaining family. And that added to that sense of being lost as a student-athlete at Wisconsin."

Jones didn't have trouble finding work outside the NBA as a basketball player, landing gigs in Turkey, Spain, Japan, the Philippines and Mexico. That consumed his life for more than 10 years before he finally retired.

After managing two martial arts studios in La Crosse, Jones, a black belt, became a stay-at-home dad. Danny and his wife, Mary, a real estate agent, have a 12-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son.

Less than 18 months ago, he had his epiphany.

"I've always been interested in science and math," said Jones, who enrolled at Winona (Minn.) State University. "It was like, ‘Let's see if I can do. Let's see if I can actually get back in the groove and do it.'

"So I took a math and physics class and kind of got my feet wet. I liked it a lot. I took a year of courses at Winona State and said, ‘Well, if I'm really serious about (getting a degree), let's get back to Madison.' "

After getting the blessing from his family -- "They're all rooting me on," he said -- Jones had to sell UW on it.

"When I left, I wasn't in good academic standing," Jones said. "I was focused on just staying eligible, and that was kind of it. The second semester of my senior year, I didn't do anything. So I had to beg and plead and tell them why I deserved to come back to school."

Jones was granted admission and signed up for 13 credits this semester. He's taking physics, calculus, psychology, and music classes.

"Being here as a student is a far different experience than being here as a student-athlete," he said. "Back then, athletics was No. 1 and I was selecting classes around practices and travel. As an athlete, you see the world through different eyes. The biggest difference now is that I'm excited."

Excited about finding himself as a student. An avid reader of personal development literature, Jones has had to refine his study habits and budget his time. He does his best to get home almost every weekend.

"It gets a little tough sometimes, but we all know why I'm doing this and the weeks go by fast," said Jones, who figures he will need four more semesters to get his physics degree. "I've got a lot of credits, but in the physics world, I'm pretty young."

Asked if his mom, Asa, would be proud of him today, Danny Jones said he hadn't thought about it in that way for years.

"She was a typical mother," he said. "She was proud of me no matter what. But I will tell you this, one of her dreams was for me to get a college degree. From that standpoint, I'm sure she would be ecstatic."

 

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