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Inspiring Stories
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The inspiring story of a priest leading an NBA coach to the Catholic Church


Photo courtesy of TREY MENA ( @treym.jpg)

Cerith Gardiner - published on 02/11/23

Andrew Jones III is a coach for the Detroit Pistons, and a friendship with a pastor will see him become a Catholic this Easter.

Andrew Jones III stands tall at 6-foot-9 — a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by a Catholic priest named Fr. John McKenzie when he saw him at the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, Michigan.

The priest went up to chat with Jones, and asked him if he played basketball — the obvious activity for someone with such an impressive stature.

Jones explained to the clergyman that he played the sport, and was also the assistant coach of player development for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons. And he also shared that his wife Julia, and their three kids, Ava, Heidi and Andrew IV were parishioners at the shrine, but as a non-Catholic, Jones wasn’t.

From that moment on, the pastor and the coach shared many conversations, and Fr. McKenzie became his mentor, a fact that was shared in an article by the Florida Catholic. And through their friendship, Jones has taken OCIA classes (Order of Christian Initiation of Adults) and is set to join the Catholic Church at Easter.

Interestingly, Jones shared how his journey to the Catholic faith started with his wife, as reported in a more in-depth article by the Detroit Catholic:

“The seed was planted early with my wife and her being Catholic. I was always interested; I did some research here and there on the faith, to be more abreast of what she believes in and the way she worships. But it wasn’t until we got to Detroit, and I met Father John, who has been a great mentor, a leader in the faith, that I started to dive deeper into faith and what it meant.”

For the pastor, Jones’ conversion story is one that is just part of his job:

“I just think being yourself, being real, leads people to Christ. I encounter people all the time that have some inkling toward the faith. I had one fellow who was listening to the Gospel when in the locker room of the gym. It was the Gospel of John, and I said, ‘That is my favorite Gospel.’ I ended up inviting him to church, and he came to church that Sunday. Being yourself, being normal, being real – that is my first job as a priest preaching the Gospel, preaching the proclamation of Jesus Christ.”

However, Fr. McKenzie has been particularly supportive of Jones, adapting to his busy schedules, and being as flexible as possible in helping the coach with his faith formation. And their combined efforts have really paid off.

Jones also shares how understanding the Eucharist opened his heart to the Catholic faith:

“What it truly means to be one with God, understanding the Body and Blood of Christ isn’t just something you do, but it’s an act of love from God. Once you realize that as a non-Catholic, that opens your mind and heart to the Catholic faith.”

And perhaps most inspiringly, Jones talks of how his training has impacted his life as a family man:

“Those are two roles and responsibilities that I hold dear. There is a hard realization that despite my love and willingness to lead my family, there is still that eagerness that God comes before that. If I truly want to lead my family, my wife, and children, I have to be one with God first. It can’t be vice versa; that is the big thing. If I truly want to be and leader for my family, then I have to be one with the faith and God.”

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