It’s natural for the youngest sibling to have parts of his game that would resemble the way his older brothers or father played basketball.
Jojo Wallace watched his oldest brother John play the game. He also watched Joey, the middle brother, perform in some of the same high school gymnasiums that Jojo plays in now.
“(Joey) played really good defense. My game is not like Joe’s. My game is more like my brother John. Me and John like to score. Joe was pass-first. Me and John are really good shooters.”
Jojo Wallace has shown plenty of offense during his season-plus suiting up at New Milford. He averaged 20.8 per game for the Green Wave as a freshman, despite getting that extra special defensive attention from opponents.
So far this season, Wallace is averaging 27.2 per game through five games.
“He is lanky, over 6-foot-3 as a sophomore with long arms, long legs. His brother (Joey) was more high-power energy and stronger,” said New Milford coach Al Tolomeo, now in his fifth season with the program. “Jojo was our main scoring offensive threat from the day he walked into the gym. Everyone keyed on him as a freshman. He didn’t back away from anything, especially offensively. He’s a natural scorer and he works his butt off.”
As for Wallace’s father, John, Sr., Jojo only needs to go to YouTube to find some clips on how his old man’s career fared. Yes, he is that John Wallace, who helped lead Syracuse to the 1996 NCAA Division I national championship game and then went on to be drafted by the New York Knicks with the 18th overall pick in the draft.
John, a two-time All Big East Conference First team selection, had his No. 44 retired at Syracuse last February — the last in a long line of famous athletes who wore the number for The Orange. Stars like Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and New Haven’s own Floyd Little, who died in January, along with hoop players Danny Schayes and Derrick Coleman.
Jojo said he prefers to watch his dad’s games at Syracuse instead of his pro career. As for dad, who said he was 3 inches taller than Jojo at the same stage in high school, he has high praise for his youngest son.
“He is a scorer, he really is. At that same age, Jojo is a better scorer than I was, better than Joey, better than his brother John,” Wallace Sr., said. “He lets the game come to him, but at the same time, he reads what the defense is trying to dictate. Whether you are shooting more from the perimeter or getting to the basket, it is all predicated on how you are going. You can’t let the defense dictate what you are doing.”
John also used a word to describe his youngest son that may make you reach for Webster’s dictionary: phlegmatic.
“He is calm, cool and collected at all times. That’s him,” John said. “You can’t rush him, you can’t speed him up. He always has an even keel on the court. He rarely has outbursts or shows that youthful exuberance.”
John and his wife Dana are happy they are getting to see some of Jojo’s games during this COVID-19 pandemic. “I didn’t care if he had just one game, wear a mask, no fans at road games, I’m happy the kids are out there able to play and it is not a wasted season,” he said.
Tolomeo said he has let the door open to John Sr. several times if he wanted to offer advice.
“There has not been one ounce of pushback. I’ve asked if he wanted to give advice and he said, ‘You keep doing what you are doing.’”
John Jr. played at the same high school as his father, Greece Athena in Rochester, then at Nicholls State in the Southland Conferece. Joey Wallace played his final three years at Immacualte, graduating in 2015 before playing for years at Southern Connecticut for Scott Burrell.
“Coaching (his son) was tough and hard. I’d rather be a father and find a coach who basically says the same things,” John Sr. said. “If it comes from a coach, it is better that way. I’m not going to coach (JoJo) in high school or college. He needs to get used to hearing another voice and responding to another voice. … There is nothing better than watching your kids perform.”
Said JoJo: “We watch NBA games and there is stuff I learn from (watching) NBA players. (Dad) shows me how not to get frustrated with teammates and to just keep playing. Other people may look at it as pressure (trying to live up to his dad). I don’t look at it as pressure. I look at it as going out there and playing. I don’t really care about the pressure.”
Jojo wants to turn around last year’s five-win campaign. The Green Wave currently are 2-3.
He wants to make some noise in the SWC tournament, something the program has never done: New Milford has never reached an SWC tournament final.
“We are trying to prove people wrong by winning,” Jojo said.
Both father and son are looking forward to the AAU season. John said Jojo doesn’t have any scholarship offers yet. A good season on the AAU circuit for Team Different can easily change that. Playing with and against better competition will certainly help, as will not being hounded by two or three defenders every time he touches the ball.
That also begs the question: Will Jojo Wallace stay at New Milford for four years? Tolomeo of course wants Wallace to stay, but knows prep schools are always an option.
“We are definitely not looking to reclass, in terms of whether he stays or not,” John Sr. said when asked if prep school is an option. John then brings up what happened to him in high school.
“People suggest I transfer (out of Greece Athena High in Rochester, New York) for better competition. I wanted to win a state championship with my friends,” he said — and he did just that.
It’s John’s hope that once non-conference games return to boys basketball next season that New Milford will go out and schedule some tough opponents to help his son — and the program — improve.
For now, Jojo Wallace will continue to just try to terrorize the SWC opposition as best as he possibly can.
“We are trying to go as far as possible (at New Milford this season). Then I am looking forward to the next AAU season against some of the best players in the country,” Jojo said.