Bobby Jones jokes that sometimes he feels more Italian than American. That’s understandable, given that the UW alum has spent the last 11 seasons playing professional basketball in Italy — his time split into stints with 11 different teams. He’s played for Virtus Roma and BT Teramo and Sutor Montegranaro and the Roseto Sharks, among others. He has experienced life in enough of the country’s 20 regions that he says he “knows it like the back of my hand.”
The 36-year-old Jones — who helped the Huskies reach the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons, from 2004 to 2006 — lives in the northeast Italian city of Verona, made famous by the William Shakespeare tragedy “Romeo and Juliet.” He’s a member of Scaligera Basket Verona, a team that competes in Italy’s second division.
But he isn’t playing. No one’s playing.
Jones has not left his apartment in five days.
On March 9, a nationwide lockdown was instituted in Italy to slow the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 31,506 confirmed cases in Italy and 2,503 deaths, according to the international statistics website Worldometer. Both numbers are the second largest worldwide, trailing only China. The most affected Italian region remains Lombardy, located just 60 miles west of Verona.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Jones called the crisis “very alarming.” But the 6-foot-8 forward also feels healthy and safe.
And, despite the isolation, he’s staying occupied.
“I’m kind of an introvert by nature, so for me this is kind of normal. I don’t mind it,” said Jones, who led UW to the Sweet Sixteen alongside Nate Robinson and Brandon Roy in 2005 and 2006. “A lot of people are extroverts who are always out and about. This was kind of like, ‘OK, I’ve got my computer. I’ve got my books. I’ve got my stretching stuff. I love sleeping. I love TV shows. I love movies.’
“So I was built for this. This isn’t really out of my comfort zone.”
It would also be inaccurate to call this an entirely comfortable arrangement. Jones’ 13-year-old daughter, who lives in the United States, will no longer be allowed to visit on spring break, as she normally does; only essential work- or family-related travel is permitted. Shops, restaurants, universities, churches, gyms and theaters are closed. Outside of work, residents may only leave their homes to go to the grocery store or pharmacy.
“My team gave us some papers that we need to fill out whenever I leave the house, whether driving or walking, just in case the police do pull you over or they ask you where you’re going,” Jones said. “You can show them and they’ll sign off and you’re good to go. But I haven’t had that happen to me yet.”
Throughout the ongoing lockdown, Jones has stayed in steady contact with his daughter, father, sister, grandmother and close friends in the United States. As for his line of work, Scaligera Basket Verona has not played in a game since March 1, and its season won’t resume until April 3 at the earliest. Jones noted that he’s still being paid during the stoppage, though he added that that’s not the case for every team.
So for now, he’s waiting, sleeping, reading, stretching, eating — and filming.
A former English major at UW who also dabbles in writing and filmmaking, Jones is planning to upload a video to his YouTube channel documenting life on lockdown.
“I’ve got nothing but time here to be creative,” Jones said. “It’s given me something to do. I’ve never been in this situation before, so I’m kind of excited to document this.
“The first couple days I was out and about because I needed to get footage and stuff like that. But once I went to two different markets and got enough food, I didn’t want to keep going outside. But when I was out I saw people on benches. I saw people walking their dogs, doing normal things. It’s just that they had masks on and gloves. That’s the surreal part.”
After 14 professional seasons, including two in the NBA, Jones considers three different places home — Los Angeles (his hometown), Seattle and Italy. All three continue to be affected by the coronavirus.
In an empty apartment in Verona, with his family an ocean away, Jones can only hope that — in all three homes — the worst is out of the way.
“It’s definitely surreal,” Jones said. “But at the same time, I’ve been thinking about it now, and there’s got to be silver linings in anything. It’s all about your mindset.
“I hope that everybody around the world can use this as like a big fire drill. I hope we can see our flaws, because new diseases are going to come every few years. I don’t think we as a planet have the infrastructure to deal with it. Hopefully this can expose our flaws and we can work on it.”
And hopefully, someday soon, Jones can go back to work.