Jo Jo Hunter's Final Cheering Section Old-time D.C. basketballers rally to get a local hoops legend out of prison

Shooting Guard: Hunter went from slam-dunk to the slammer.
Courtesy of Jesse Harrison

In 1986, the Washington Post wrote a where-are-they-now story on the All-Met basketball team from a decade earlier.

In its day, the class of ’76 was considered one of the strongest crops of schoolboy talent the city had ever produced. The article, titled “After the Fast Breaks Come the Tough Breaks,” told of the many squad members that hadn’t lived up to their early billing. The piece led with the tale of former Mackin Catholic High School standout Anthony “Jo Jo” Hunter.

The Philadelphia 76ers tried talking Hunter into going pro, at a time when no high school guard had ever gone straight to the NBA. Hunter instead went to the University of Maryland to play for Lefty Driesell’s star-laden Terrapins. After two underwhelming seasons in College Park, he transferred to Colorado; he made All Big Eight his senior year.

But NBA success eluded Hunter. He got no playing time during his brief season with the Milwaukee Bucks. That was it. That vintage Post story found Hunter a decade out of high school, hanging on with a team in the Philippines—another Can’t Miss Kid who missed.

“Some things didn’t turn out the way they should have,” Hunter said at the time. “But as long as everybody has got their health, that’s all you can ask for, right?”

Things got a lot worse for Hunter in the years after that quote. Now 54, he still has his health, but he’s ready to ask for something more: His freedom.

Hunter told me so over the weekend over the phone. He called collect. Every minute or so our conversation was interrupted by a taped voice on his end saying, “This call is from a federal prison.”

A decade after the Post story ran and 20 years out of high school, Hunter was locked up for robbing of a pair of downtown jewelry stores. Newspaper accounts say Hunter and an ex-girlfriend took $350,000 in cash and goods from Ellis Custom Jewelry Design and Gold-N-Time. Trial testimony showed a Gold-N-Time sales clerk was shot in the wrist trying to wrest a gun from Hunter. A jury convicted Hunter of 11 felony counts; he received a sentence of 14-to-43 years.

Speaking by phone from Cumberland Federal Prison, a medium-security institution in Western Maryland where he’s known as Inmate #09817-007, Hunter politely declined to discuss the crimes. “I’ve done my time, as good as I could,” he said. “I made mistakes and bad choices, but I’ve been able to help mold some guys in here. I think I deserve a second chance.”

Hunter has a parole hearing scheduled for December. It’ll be his first such chance to get a second chance. And there’s an earnest effort led by a group of family members, friends, and hoop rivals who got schooled by Hunter back when he was The Man, to bring him home.

“He’s told me if he gets a chance, he will never, never, never go back there,” says Harolyn Harrison. “I believe him.”

Harrison is Hunter’s cousin, and was among the few supporters who showed up at his sentencing. Hunter’s mother and father both died since he was sent to prison, so she’s made it her responsibility to keep him up on family news, and to make sure loved ones travel to see him.

Harrison is now the leader of the effort to get him paroled. She feels that the 15 years he’s already served are enough.

“After the sentencing, we knew 2011 was going to be our first opportunity,” she says. “And we weren’t going to miss it. So we’ve been on a mission all year.”

(Harrison’s view on the sentence is shared by a juror in Hunter’s 1997 trial that I contacted recently. “He’s still in jail? Really?” the juror, who asked not to be identified, said. “That’s terrible. We knew he did it, but, we didn’t think about how long he’d be in jail for that. Knowing he’s been in jail for this long, that’s just sad. It was clear this was a guy who once had had so much promise.”)

Harrison is calling friends and strangers trying to line up jobs and housing guarantees for Hunter should he be released, knowing a parole board would consider the support network when deciding whether or not to cut him loose.

She didn’t have any trouble enlisting her husband, Jesse Harrison, in the release effort.

“Jo Jo was the best player I saw,” says Jesse, who played at Roosevelt (class of 1977) during Hunter’s hoops heyday.

These days, Jesse Harrison runs and plays in the Over-50 League at the Bowie Community Center. He asked all the guys in the league who remember Hunter to write recommendation letters to Isaac “Ike” Fulwood, the former Metropolitan Police Department chief who now chairs the U.S. Parole Commission.

Harrison’s league, full of guys who are more likely to debate Jo Jo vs. Hawkeye (Whitney, the DeMatha forward) in 1976 than LeBron vs. Kobe circa 2011, rallied behind Jesse’s request.

“If you played ball in this area, you remember Jo,” says former Dunbar player Guy Arnold, 60, who played alongside Hunter on playgrounds and in summer leagues, while waiting for his old guys’ game at Bowie to tip off. “He could do it all. I’m sure he crushed a lot of people who are on this court tonight. We all thought he should have gone places, with basketball. I never saw that other side to Jo.” (One sign of Hunter’s renown: In a ’70s scene from his novel King Suckerman, George Pelecanos drops Jo Jo’s name while describing a high-level hoops game at the Chevy Chase playground.)

Emanuel Hardy, another Bowie baller, played with Hunter at Mackin, and says Hunter helped him score a basketball scholarship to the University of Delaware. “Jo was so good, we were all shocked when he chose Maryland and didn’t go to the NBA,” says Hardy, who grew up in Barry Farms and now lives in Temple Hills, Md. “But it wasn’t just pro scouts that came to see him. College scouts were always watching us. They wanted Jo, but they watched us too. I know a lot of us benefited from all the scouts.”

So Hardy’s writing to Fulwood. “The Jo Jo Hunter I knew a long time ago was a good guy,” says Hardy. “With the support he’d have, especially if he can get around all the people who know him, who knew him when he was Jo Jo Hunter, he’ll be all right. We’ve got to get him here with us, right on these courts. I mean that.”

Justin Ellis, a 6’11” center from St. John’s College High School who played alongside Hunter at Colorado, says he’ll also be among the 50-and-Overs writing to Fulwood.

Jesse Harrison admits he wants Hunter released from jail for reasons other than familial. “Oh, Jo Jo’s gonna play on my team when he gets out,” he says. “He knows that already.”

Hunter knows about his peers from the D.C. hoops scene rallying around him, and says it’s nice to be remembered. Asked if there’s a moral to his tale, Hunter says, “I had a promising life ahead of me, and I was certain I wanted to be a basketball player. I was full of uncertainties as far as other parts of my life went. As I tell kids, they can lock anybody up. I’m proof.”

As for anything he’d change if given a do-over, Hunter says, “I’d sign with the 76ers.”

Our Readers Say

Excellent article Dave!
LETS HOPE CHIEF FULWOOD IN ALL HIS DC STREET WISDOM MAKE THE RIGHT DECISION AND LET JO-JO PLAY THE FOURTH QUARTER OF HIS LIFE ON THE STREETS OF THIS CITY SO HE CAN SCHOOL SOME OF THOSE YOUNG FOLK WHOSE DREAMS AND DESIRES ARE JUST CLOUDED THOUGHTS WITH NO DIRECTION BECAUSE THESE DAYS CRIME PAYS A LITTLE BUT THE CONSEQUENCES ARE COSTLY!



YO DAVE MC I REALLY APPRECIATE THE DC BASKETBALL LEGENDS STORIES TO BUFFER NBA LOCK OUT! FIRST BAYLOR NOW JO-JO WHOSE NEXT . . . VICTOR PAGE?

YOU TOOK THIS STORY ‘RED PORCH’ AS USUAL! NEXT TIME YOU SEE ALAN SEWERMAN WILL HAVE HIM HOLD OUT HIS HANDS WITH FINGERS FULLY EXTENDED AND WILL YOU PLEASE RUB HIS FINGERS SO HE CAN PLUCK THE SAME MAGIC ON WASHCITYPAPER LL SECTION. YOUR HELP IN THIS MATTER WILL BE GREATLY APPRECIATED.
I know nothing of basketball and its legends, but this is a very well written article. As a young, native Washingtonian, it made me feel a bit closer to the history of this city. I just might have to read CheapSeats on the regular now.

His story would be a great inspiration to DC's troubled youth, at places like Boys Town DC and Sasha Bruce. This is someone who had goals, but lost focus and made bad decisions-- It's a lesson from all angles.

Thanks!
Jo's story will be one of redemption. He made a mistake and gave no excuses. He has served his time. He needs to hear less talk about his legend as a baller and more about the possibilities of a future as a man.
Dave, you hit this one out of the park! It is always great to see and read writers who do their homework.

The system is still rotten to the core when it comes to sentencing black men to prison.

When one of the jurors who found Jo Jo guilty at the origial sentencing was told that he was still in jail said, “He’s still in jail? Really?” the juror, who asked not to be identified, “That’s terrible. We knew he did it, but, we didn’t think about how long he’d be in jail for that. Knowing he’s been in jail for this long, that’s just sad."

I truly believe “The world is a dangerous place not because of people who do bad things, but it is dangerous because of people who sit around and do nothing.”

Dave, Thanks for not sitting around and doing nothing!
I went to Mackin with both Emanual Hardy(graduated from Mackin with him) and JoJo Hunter. He was on the JV team and I was the manager. I really believe that he will be home and that his future has not been written yet. Thanks for writing this about a young man with great potenial.
Wasn't Albert King featured in Telander's "Heaven is a Playground"?

Great piece!
I grew up in the city down SW,I use to go up Jefferson Jr. High School back in the 70's and watch Jo Jo Hunter, Larry Wright, Wally Perry,Chester Baxter, Reggie Newby and many more name I can't remember right now battle for hours, but Jo Jo Hunter was the best player on the court, hands down. This is a great article, that I will pass along to my son in college, and my young athletes around the DMV.

Brother Jesse, I wil see you this fall over Riggs Recreation.
Dave, you have done it again. Every article you do is thoughtful and informing. I hope JoJo gets his second chance. Life throws you so many curves, everyone needs a second chance.
Good on you Mr. McKenna. Your columns always bring local athletic issues, heroes, and traditions into focus. They shed light on a history about which our transient residents may be unaware. Here is hoping the interest around Jo influences the parole board in a positive regard.
I was JoJO's attorney in the cases that went to trial where he was convicted and sentenced to the sentence he is currently serving. I hope he gets out.
I work for the nba union give me a call at 917-6232511 He might have some nba benefits coming 917-6232511 I am not sure but after I talk to him or the persons trying to help him I will know.
Kermit Washington
I WENT TO MACKIN CLASS OF 81',JO JO SET THE STANDARDS AFTER HE LEFT AND ALOT OF PEOPLE FOLLOWED. ME FOR ONE JOHNNY DAWKINS,AND OUR LONG TIME COACH' D'I'M SURE HE LEARNED HIS LESSON WHILE IN JAIL I SAY FREE HIM AND I'M SURE HE HAS ALL OF THE MACKIN FAMILY BEHIND HIM OLD SCHOOL TO THE NEWSCHOOL. TAKE CARE MY MACKIN BROTHER NEVRE MEET YOU BUT I WILL RUN INTO YOU SOON.STAY STRONG
43 years is a long time, I would assume that one day wakes you up. We make mistakes in this life, and should be forgiven. That's what Jesus would do. I hope JoJo does keep his commitment to minister to our youth because it is greatly needed, especially in our area. Releasing him is an option!
Excellent article Dave! It is so unfortunate that basketball in DC (the city) has declined so much over the past 30 years. The games between Mackin, Carroll, DeMatha, Dunbar, Eastern, McKinley and St. John's were classic high school games. Jo Jo Hunter was the best and not far behind were Billy Bryant, Turk Tillman, Ba Ba Duren, Craig Shelton, Steve Lincoln, Hawkeye Whitney, Tony Ellis, Mark Pitchford, to name a few. This was DC basketball in its purest form untouched by AAU and its predatory and self-promoting coaches. It's too bad we can't get this type of quality local sports journalism from anyone at the Washington Post. Thanks again Dave.
I was a MD undergrad with fond memories of JoJo. His teammate, Brad Davis, asked for my notes in a communications class we had together. Great team, with Steve Sheppard on the front court.
Brian Magid, Gibson and Boston, and the 'ole lefthander. Good times. My thoughts are with you, Jo!
EXCELLENT ARTICLE! SO many people who did and continue to do FAR Worse crimes than JO JO go around still free as birds on the streets. Look at the girl who got NO TIME for manslaughter of a man while she was texting and driving? NO TIME AT ALL! GOD gives us ALL second, third, fourth, and unlimited chances...LETS GIVE JO JO his second chance. Let's allow him to use all he has learned while being a 'guest of MD' to help others advance in their lives and learn from his mistakes without making so many of their own.
If you have ever had a childhood idol, then you will know where I am coming from. JoJo Hunter's Washington Post articles were plastered all over my bedroom wall. I was shooting around at a court we called The Seminary, back in the day. I was a freshman at Carroll, so it was 1976-77. Well I look up and the legendary, HS phenom, JoJo Hunter comes walking down the hill. We played maybe 6-7 games of one-on-one that evening. He was a very humble, patient guy. It was like he had not achieved what he had already achieved on the court. Well, now I am praying that he gets a second chance to make his successful reintegration into society and to become a productive citizen.
I have known Anthony Hunter since the 9th grade, which was the first time I saw him play his first varsity game against DeMatha as a freshman. I met him the following year when I was a Freshman at DeMatha, we had many battles as players but it wasn't until after college that we sat down one day after working out together and really became friends and we've been like brothers ever since. We actually lived together for a year. People never understood the relationship between us because we came from different worlds, but we took to each other and we understood each other very well.
JoJo Hunter was without a doubt a great basketball player and I'm sure he has had time to reflect on his once promising basketball career and the mistakes he made in his life. But that’s not what’s really important here. Prison from my understanding has a way of taking your spirit and manhood away. It will humble you! I talk to JoJo on a regular basis; he is truly a changed man. In his time of incarceration I can hear the changes in him in his voice. It is sad to hear a man taken to the lowest point in his life. Most of the people that wrote here only know JoJo the ballplayer, I know him as my friend, my brother. Mr. Fulwood, if you're reading this, you need to know that this man is not the same man that was locked away some 18 years ago. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone", we have all sinned and made mistakes, how much more does one man have to pay? He's lost allot while incarcerated, his mother and father have passed away, he wasn't allowed to say good bye to them, his son (Not being there to help raise him), most of all his Freedom and Dignity. We all ask that you give this man his freedom and life back to him. He has humbled himself before God and has asked for his forgiveness, isn't it time for society to forgive him and welcome him home? The support system waiting for him is great, strong and ready to support him! Free Inmate #09817-007 and return him to his rightful name Anthony Hunter. The Village is willing to help him return to his home, family and life. I implore you Sir to free our brother, cousin and friend.
Everyone is talking about JoJo. I want to talk about Harolyn Harrison. She is the real deal when it comes to family. She believes that they should support each other mo matter what. She is a real advocate for JoJo and his name and his circumstance is always on her lips. I have known her all of my life and I say way to go Harolyn!
Everyone is talking about JoJo. I want to talk about Harolyn Harrison. She is the real deal when it comes to family. She believes that they should support each other no matter what. She is a real advocate for JoJo and his name and his circumstance are always on her lips. I have known her all of my life and I say, Way to go Harolyn!
EXCELLENT article!!! What a travesty. No every crime deserves it's punishment, however, hoop skills aside, Mr. Hunter also deserves the chance to experience his latter days to be better than his former. We all have seen others with much more devestating crimes to their credit get less. Come on, enough is enough!!!
I was a classmate and and member of the freshmen basketball team,Hunter was very gifted I hope they will give him that break he needs
Well...I got an email from Jo a couple of weeks ago and he got it! He made parole- good for him!
Me and jojo played basketball on different team from high school to college and what a shooter he was i first played against him in the summer in Georgetown where dunbar played mackin we both were exciting players both coaches began scouting us before the game started ,anyway Jo Jo was a great shooter and player and I thought he had great talent .he is also a great man that made a mistake , a likable man, he has learned his mistake I miss seeing mr hunter and so does many People so I work for the department of state now and I will help mr hunter all I can so mr chief Isaac fulwood please let mr hunter come home where he belongs..... THANK YOU SIR!!!!!
I felt the pain when Jo Jo got locked-up. The last time I played and saw him was a couple weeks after we graduated from Mackin High School (the class of 1976). I once ask him why he was so good at his craft, and he responded "....I simply just try to play all the time". He was very helpful to me with my came because I knew every time we played together, I had to bring my A game, cause he would bring it every time. Let me know what I can do to help him get released?

Uncle Peanut
I met JOJO when I was a freshmen at Mackin he would stop by freshman practices to help out .to me that was a true leader .we all trip up in life but with people willing to help us along we can make it .So a second chance is what we all need so I believe he should be given his
I am so happy that JOJO is back on the courts where he belongs. What a great talent. I knew Anthony well we went to the same Jr High(Langley in NE DC) He had left by the time i got there but we had the same coach. Even thou Jo was at Mackin making a name for his self he would always come back to Langley to work out with the team. To me he was the best that i ever seen. I knew the fam well also. I remember being over his cousin house when JOJO came over with the letter from the Sixers. He had great work habits he wanted to be the best and he was. I worked out with Jo alot he was the one me and so many others wanted to pattern our game after.Because we had the same coach i got to see JOJO play at Mackin Langley would scrimmage mMackin freashman team. I am so happy for him and cant wait to see him again. I am glad that Jesse and his fam has been there for him. I to had promise but made so wrong choices we all have we all deserve a second third even forth chance. Go get'em Anothy your friend and fan. COWBOY
I heard so much about Jo Jo an wen I had the opportunity to meet him I was speechless. Jo Jo is truly a gentleman an he gave me a lot of wisdom to better my life. I have the up most respect for him an he truly deserves to be free. He use to to tell me everyday,slim wen u get out don't come back. I thank u Jo Jo an I'm waiting on u to cone home now.
I went to Mackin with JoJo and he was phenomenal in my eyes. We had talent on our team in 1973 when he was a sophomore. I couldn't believe what I saw when he made the moves on defending players that shook them right out of their shoes.
There was that smile JoJo had when a defender would come up on him and all of a sudden he had that awwwwe $#it look on his face (with his smile) that said, "I got me one....well here you go...then all of a sudden, there was this swwwiiish sound that was unique that define the words "Face Job". I'm certain there are a lot of players who went up against him that would agree with me.
Bottom line is that he talked to everyone, laughed with everyone, and was nice to everyone as I recall at Mackin!
My name is Vincent Kelley and I was JO JO Hunter roommate at Colorado, he was a senior and I was a freshman. Jo Jo was the best team mate and room mate any person could have. I do wish he get released from prison, I think he's served his time and learned his lesson. I love JoJo like a brother, he really helped me get use to being away from LA when I came to CU. He's hands down the best player I've ever seen.
This website is great 171dd4750f572d60bd3f4b03bd08e002

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