Jonesing For Basketball: Mike Jones Returns as USA Coach in 2017
He just keeps coming back.
He let out a bit of a laugh when asked about it, but the truth is, Mike Jones is hooked – fixated on coaching and gaining valuable experience with USA Basketball.
Jones’ head coaching career spans 15 years, all with his high school alma mater DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Maryland. Before being named DeMatha’s head coach, Jones was an assistant for Nasimith Basketball Hall of Fame coach and legend Morgan Wootten.
Two years after taking the helm at DeMatha, in 2004, Jones accepted his first coaching assignment with USA Basketball, as an assistant for the 2004 Youth Development Festival East Team.
That 2004 team won bronze, and it is the lone USA Basketball medal of Jones’ collection that isn’t gold. His journey’s start wasn’t as grand as others, but it’s been a journey he has cherished.
“It’s been great for me, because when you just mention USA Basketball, it immediately brings some legitimacy, and there is definitely prestige that comes along with it. Any opportunity I get, that’s definitely something I want to take advantage of,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity to be around some very talented young men, and then also, be around some very, very accomplished coaches. It’s just an opportunity to be around some great people and soak up as much great basketball and fellowship as I can.”
Jones is back in the red, white and blue in 2017 after an active slate in 2016, which saw him serve as a court coach for the USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team October minicamp and also as an assistant coach to USA Basketball’s director of coach development Don Showalter and the 2016 USA Men’s U17 World Championship Team. Jones’ gold medal tally improved to three as the U17’s claimed the crown in Zaragoza, Spain, with a 7-0 record, joining Jones’ golds from the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship (5-0) and 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship (8-0).
From the 2016 U17 staff is a friend and colleague of Jones – Miles Simon. On April 7, Jones will assist Simon in the 20th annual Nike Hoop Summit. This year’s Nike Hoop Summit will be the fourth in Jones’ USA Basketball career, as he fulfilled head coaching duties in 2013 and 2014 and assistant coaching responsibilities in 2012.
He particularly enjoys returning to Portland, Oregon, and this competition, and he appreciates what it means to the players and USA Basketball.
“It’s unique, because first of all, I think there is recognition that the World Team is extremely talented year-in and year-out. Those guys are going to try to beat us. It’s not an all-star game. It’s not, ‘Hey, we’re just going to go out here and have fun and put on a show.’ This is a competitive game. Our guys embracing that concept has helped us be successful.”
It’s a short week, in all truthfulness. As the USA team arrives just days ahead of the event, Jones isn’t too concerned with jelling. He and Simon coached six of the players this past summer, and have coached others at October minicamps and other elite-level camps across the country. The players know one another, and he enjoys seeing them bond on and off the court in competitions of this sort.
The friendships and memories formed through these experiences are a big reason Jones agrees to continue coaching at this level. The players, in general, are truly the source for his coaching happiness.
“Over the course of the years, the players change, but the talent level, their improvement and their selflessness is always so impressive. When they put that jersey on, and it has the flag on it and USA on it, then all the individual stuff goes out the door. It’s honestly a pleasure and an honor to be a part of that.
“To me, it’s pretty amazing, that all this attention that these young men get – it’s almost like when they land in Portland or when they land in Colorado Springs, they check their ego and own agendas at the door. For that time they are with us, that other stuff doesn’t matter. It’s all about our team and representing our country. I think that is the most impressive thing. And, it seems to be getting easier, because of the guys that have already done it successfully.”
Jones is extremely proud of the fact he has the chance to coach these players during their “basketball formative years.”
“It’s amazing watching their development,” he said.
“You can look at a guy like Trevon Duval, who I remember when he was in the ninth grade, to watch his game progress so much. To lead a guy in Collin Sexton, who many people didn’t know about, but by the end of last summer, he’s the hottest name in high school basketball. To watch a guy like Wendell Carter Jr. progress over his years of high school basketball – it’s truly amazing. Everybody can observe their progression from afar, but to be up close and to get to know their personalities and spend time with them outside of the gym, those are the memories you take away.”
These players may be just 18 years old, but they are tomorrow’s top prospects. Jones knows that. He’s coached many of them through the years.
Another crop of his players from DeMatha have excelled at the game’s highest levels. A former Stag was selected in three-straight recent NBA Drafts with Victor Oladipo in 2013, Jerami Grant in 2014 and Jerian Grant in 2015, while 2016 Nike Hoop Summit alum Markelle Fultz is expected to be a lottery pick in 2017.
“A lot of credit goes to them and their families. They’ve worked so hard. The great thing about our school and community, is that guys come here with dreams like that, and we are here to do everything we can to help them achieve their dreams,” he said.
“All four of the guys that will be in the NBA this coming season, you couldn’t look at them as freshman and automatically say, ‘Hey, this guy is going to pay in the NBA.’ That’s the biggest compliment I can give them. They worked to earn this.”
That’s exactly what Jones has done, too, with coaching. He’s worked. He eclipsed the 400-career win mark on Feb. 16, 2017, with an 82-75 win over Gonzaga College High School (D.C.). He owns a 404-106 (.792 winning percentage) all-time record at DeMatha, including eight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference regular season titles.
Jones is proud of these accomplishments, as he should be. As a coach, will he ever be able to duplicate the Stags’ 30-0 record from 1991 – one of two undefeated teams in school history, and a team that he was the second-leading scorer on? That’s to be seen.
Today, he’s just happy to be giving back to basketball through coaching, and by the looks of it, there are many years ahead, especially if he can’t quit coming back.