The “kids” on COD’s hoops squad call Jermaine Townes “Old School.” But really, the 39-year-old freshman is teaching contemporary lessons on starting over.

A veteran of Desert Storm—a war his teammates know only through history books—Townes is the oldest player ever to try out for the Chaparrals.

But the 6'4" forward has game—one he learned on Chicago’s playgrounds and honed on the U.S. Navy basketball team. He also brings athletic prowess from high school football and baseball.

Now he holds court with teens and twenty-somethings.

“I’m old enough to be their pops,” said Townes. “It feels good to still be able to run with them and communicate with them.”

Townes’ assists go beyond basketball.

After his parents died when he was just 6 years old, Townes became a transient.

“I was pretty much living with everyone in the family,” said Townes. “Wherever I went, they understood I was just going to be there until I got tired and I left.”

With no one to encourage his education, said Townes, “I struggled through high school, and I believe what made me stay and finish was sports. I didn’t want to stop playing sports.”

He slid by academically, then decided his only path out of Chicago’s west side was college or the military. Unprepared for a scholarship, he chose the Navy, shipping out on July 3, 1990.

“The best move I ever made,” said Townes. “I’ve been around the world twice. I’ve seen so many countries I can’t even name them all.” Townes served during and after Desert Storm, starting out as a shipboard cook, then becoming a paralegal, assisting Navy JAG officers.

Years later, Townes was working a regular job when the 2008 recession hit. “I was just sitting home, watching TV a lot, and I kept hearing about school.”

So he moved to Lombard, found COD, and applied.

Today, Townes is studying computer systems, earning top grades, and dishing advice on versatility and lifelong learning.

“Do as much as you can,” said Townes. “Learn as much as you can. You can never, ever know everything or know too much. Because one minute, your profession can be up and running—and a recession hits, and your profession could be gone.”

The key, said Townes, is education.

“COD has really helped me mature in school, and mentally and athletically. I can’t say enough about how much COD is helping me. When I came to school, I was scared of the curriculum, because I didn’t know if I could actually do it. But I always knew that if all these other hundreds of thousands of people can do it, why can’t I?”

Kind of like winning a fast break against an 18-year-old kid.