One of eight children, Jason Montgomery Finnegan was born December 31, 1967, as the fourth son of a struggling farmer in Laurel, Mississippi. His was a life of drudgery until he discovered round-ball. Overnight, Jason became a middle school basketball phenomenon. In 1981, as a high school freshman, he started on the varsity, led the league in scoring, and helped turn a mediocre team into a playoff contender.
Jason’s meteoric rise to basketball prominence was mirrored by another promising young point guard—Kevin Gilmore, who also came from a poor background in Yoknapatawpha County.
Jason and Kevin first crossed paths when they were both fifteen and playing for the State High School Boys' Basketball Championship. Jason was big for his age and physically ahead of his peer group in every way. He had a sweet fifteen-foot jump-shot and a blinding first step to the basket. Jason Finnegan crushed Kevin Gilmore in their first contest, beating him in every phase of the game, while taunting him mercilessly.
The next time Jason and Kevin met, it was three years later during their senior year in high school, and the two young men were again on opposite teams playing for the State Championship. A recruiter from Ole Miss was in the stands that night, and both players knew that a college scholarship was at stake.
When the two players took their respective positions, Jason realized things were going to be different from their first contest. Jason had stopped growing his sophomore year and topped out at 5'10". Kevin Gilmore, on the other hand, had reached 6' 1" and grown into his formerly lanky frame. Kevin used his height advantage and played the once-unstoppable Jason Finnegan to a standstill. With the score tied and the clock winding down, the coveted scholarship could have easily gone to either player.
Jason dribbled across the mid-court line with ten seconds left and the score tied. Instead of passing the ball, taking some time off the clock, and setting up a good shot, he forced up an ill-advised three pointer that was partially blocked by Kevin Gilmore. While Jason screamed at the referee, claiming he was fouled, Kevin took the ball and drove down the court. Kevin had a clean shot at the basket, but he unselfishly passed the ball to one of his teammates for an uncontested lay-up. Kevin’s team won the game, and he was named the MVP.
Kevin got the scholarship, and Jason had to settle for a walk-on tryout at Ole Miss. He barely made the team, which was already deep at the guard position. Their freshman year at Ole Miss, Jason felt he outplayed Kevin, and was convinced he could take Kevin’s spot on the team the following year.
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