Basketball is much more than a game to the Molina family; it’s a rite of passage.
The family patriarch, Jim, played high school ball, as did his son, Jimmy.
Jimmy’s two sons—James and Julian—picked up the passion from there. James played college ball at Central Christian College of Kansas before closing out his career at South Mountain College. Julian is playing a major part in Mountain View’s basketball renaissance.
The love falls on both sides of the family tree, however. Just ask any of the Molina men who the biggest basketball fanatic in the family was, and they’ll give you one name—Carol, Jim’s late wife.
Jim and Carol became fixtures, first as Tucson High School parents (where Jimmy thrived), then at Sahuaro High School where James played, then at Mountain View—cheering on their grandson, Julian, at games both near and far.
It was a decades-old tradition for the pair, even after stage four colon cancer ravaged Carol’s body.
Nothing was going to keep her away from watching her grandchildren play, so Carol carried on, attending games between bouts of chemotherapy and surgery in 2012.
Julian (who also goes by Juju) never left his grandmother, spending 22 consecutive days by her bedside, according to Jim. It was all he could do to try to will the woman that raised him to health.
Carol fought and fought, until her disease ate away much of her internal organs, stripping her of the strength that comes from building and maintaining a family.
She was in dire straits, but mustered enough vigor to attend one home game—where she watched Julian and the Mountain View Lions slay the mighty Salpointe Catholic Lancers 66-53 on Dec. 5.
Her grandson had a performance to remember, scoring 15 points in the victory, before coming over to hug his grandparents, who were in their customary courtside seats.
“She was getting really sick and then she fell, and we’re like, ‘Wow’,” Jim said. “But, she wanted to see Juju play, and the last game she saw was against Salpointe. She was there. She couldn’t stand, but she was there. She loved her Juju.”
Carol passed away nine days later, succumbing to the disease that ate away at her for a half-decade.
Just keep dribbling
Julian, tasked with playing the game he loves without his number one fan, chose to continue on, dedicating the rest of the season to the woman who spread her love of the game to him all those years ago.
Jimmy has seen his son’s dedication, to both his late grandmother and to basketball, and is honored by the effort his son has put in after her death.
“It’s like everything is for her, to make her proud while looking down on us,” Jimmy said. “He’s a great kid, and we’re so proud of him. He’s averaging 22-plus points a game. He’s only a junior, so, we couldn’t be happier.”
Longtime Mountain View Coach Corey Duck knows how tough the loss has been on his young player, but is impressed by how composed Julian has been, through thick and thin.
“I think Julian’s handled it very well for someone his age,” Duck said. “He was able to handle the task at hand and still go to practice and deal with his family, too. It’s a tough thing for anyone to go through, but he handled it very well.”
It’s that maturity that’s helped the 17-year-old grow, both on and off the court. Julian has grown more and more comfortable with the ball in his hands, he said, and has guided the Lions to a 9-4 record before the holiday break.
His ability to find open space and make shots once he gets there has carried the Mountain Lions forward, with Julian and fellow guard Drew Cotton teaming up to pick apart their opponents.
That maturity hasn’t been lost on Julian’s grandfather, who has helped groom two generations of guards.
“It’s been a pleasure to see him grow, because you can see the last couple of years, he’s matured,” Jim said. “He was just a little boy before. Now, in tough situations, he knows about basketball, he studies basketball. He stays after with the coach and talks about what the team needs to do, so he’s taking a leadership role, which I’m proud of, because when he does play college ball he’s going to be a point guard.”
There’s a lot of basketball to be played between now and then, and Julian has no interest in thinking too far ahead.
His focus, as always, is on doing whatever his team needs to make it back to the state playoffs—avenging last year’s first-round 61-50 defeat to Buena High School.
He feels that this year’s squad has what it takes to go even farther, especially with Carol watching from afar.
It’s that belief that drives Julian to show up early and stay late at practice, building on to his on-court repertoire.
“I’ve grown very positively because I knew my grandma wasn’t going to get any better,” Julian said. “So every day, I would just wake up, and it’s more motivation every single day. I know I have to make her proud.”