In passing up a shot, Jonathon Montanez got a shot of his own.
Like many Texas Tech University seniors, Jonathon Montanez has the world ahead of him. He is a natural leader, a fact attested to by the jobs he's held down while attending school, and plans to work toward a master's degree in physical therapy after graduating this weekend.
All the opportunities now available to him, he attributes to the one he passed up.
It was February 2013, the last basketball game of the regular season, and El Paso's cross-town rivals Coronado and Franklin high schools were playing one another. It also was senior night for Coronado, an already emotional final game for team manager Mitchell Marcus, who has a developmental disability. And that was before his coach put him in the game with 90 seconds remaining.
“I kind of knew him growing up because we'd go to basketball camps and he'd be there – he was one of those familiar faces,” said Montanez, who played for Franklin. “He was just the heart of Coronado's basketball team.”
Thirteen seconds later, the Franklin coach put Montanez in, since it was also his last game. Coronado led, but not by so much that the game was out of reach.
“Coronado was playing 4-on-5 defense, trying to give Mitchell the ball,” Montanez recalled. “He missed, I think, four shots, and with seconds left it bounced off his shoulder and went out of bounds.”
Inbounding the ball, Montanez did something unexpected. Instead of passing it to one of his teammates to try to score, he yelled, “Mitchell!” and passed the ball to his rival.
“It was like a movie,” Montanez laughed. “I didn't think on it. It was just this feeling of, ‘This is his moment – it's his time to shine.'”
Marcus made a basket and Coronado won by 15, but Montanez didn't feel like a loser.
“Back in El Paso, it's one of the biggest rivalries, so the local news stations were there for the sports report,” he said. “I thought it was just going to be local news, and they came the next day for an interview. But from there, I got calls from CBS headquarters and things like that to schedule more interviews.”
After a video was posted on Facebook, the story spread like wildfire.
“I was just in awe – I have no words to describe the feeling,” Montanez said. “It was a great way to end senior year.”
It brought both young men out of their shells, Montanez said, and created a lifelong friendship between their families. But that's not where the story ends.
As it turns out, then-Texas Tech Chancellor Kent Hance saw the story on TV.
“I said to myself, ‘That's the type of young man we want at Texas Tech,'” Hance said. “I started looking for him and I asked my staff to see if they could chase him down.”
They came back with a phone number.
“It was a random evening, late at night, and Chancellor Hance called me,” Montanez remembered. “I was on the verge of deciding between the University of New Mexico and Texas Tech, and he called me and said, ‘We're going to offer you a scholarship. We really want you to come to Texas Tech; you're an example of what we strive for here.' And that's really what sold the deal. He pitched Texas Tech to me.”
Hance offered the scholarship because of the character Montanez showed.
“He did something that was beyond the call of duty,” Hance said. “He went out of his way to be nice to someone who was disadvantaged, and I was very impressed with his action. That's the kind of kid that I love – I wanted him to be a Red Raider, and he turned out to be a great one.
“I'm proud he came to Texas Tech, but I wasn't taking much of a chance. A kid like that, if he's got the grades to get in and that's his feeling, his compassion and that's how he treats others, that's going to be a great student to have. I felt like, if he had the grades – and he did – that's who we wanted. I thought it would work out well and it certainly did.”
As soon as Montanez arrived on campus for orientation, he fell in love with Texas Tech. And it wasn't long before he began helping people in his new environment just as he had back in El Paso.
“There was a program called United Future Leaders that contacted me – they sent me fan mail,” Montanez laughed. “It was an after-school program with kids from Shallowater that worked on ethics and how to be a leader outside of school through community service, following the Golden Rule, things like that. The fifth- or sixth-graders wrote letters to me and made me an honorary member. So my first job on campus was working with them, leading the program, doing activities, course planning and getting materials together.”
It wasn't an entirely new experience – he did something similar when he was the same age as the students now writing to him.
“I was in an after-school program in middle school, helping the counselors with the younger kids and being like a big brother to them,” he said.
After United Future Leaders, he began working in the Student Union Building, helping to set up rooms for events. He worked his way up and has been a manager for his department for about a year and a half now, but he shrugs off the suggestion that leadership has followed him.
“I feel like people have looked up to me and things like that,” he allowed, “but I just keep it humble and try not to stick out my chest. My parents raised me to want to be a great man.”
Montanez will graduate this weekend with his bachelor's degree in kinesiology, and he hopes the right doors will open in the future so he can attend physical therapy school.
“I've lived out my college years, and I'm ready to graduate and head into adulthood,” he laughed. “I want to look more toward the future and make sure I have everything set in mind.”
Of course, he doesn't mind reflecting on the past at the same time. Montanez said if he had the opportunity to speak to Hance today, he knows exactly what he would say.
“I would thank him for the experience, for the scholarship and for extending his hand to me,” Montanez said. “I know that's a big deal. It wasn't a shot in the dark, per se, but he only knew me based on this one random act of kindness.
“It's been a blessing and an honor to be here at Texas Tech. I can't wait to walk across the stage.”