Run of U16 Success Creates an Exciting Challenge for New Head Coach Mike Jones
Jones will look to apply all he has learned with USA Basketball toward keeping team’s 25-0 streak intact.
Succeeding a legend is nothing new to coach Mike Jones.
He served as an assistant coach in 2002 at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, under legendary high school coach Morgan Wootten, who told him in November of that year he was retiring. Jones already had been named head-coach-in-waiting.
Wootten had coached 46 seasons at the school. He had won 1,274 games and is now enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Those are big shoes to fill, and Jones fit rather nicely into them. In 2006, he led DeMatha to a national championship. In his 17 seasons as head coach, his teams have gone 469-116. He is coming off a season in which DeMatha won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference regular-season title and Maryland private school state title.
And now, he’s staring perfection in the face while preparing to step in for another coaching legend.
After serving in 18 previous roles as a head coach, assistant coach or court coach for USA Basketball, Jones was named head coach of the 2019 USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team. It’s a role he is thrilled to take on, but one where the bar for success couldn’t possibly be higher.
The USA U16 teams have gone 25-0 since 2009 in FIBA Americas competition under previous coach Don Showalter.
Jones will lead the U16 team at the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Belém, Brazil, in early June. The eight-team tournament also includes Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Uruguay. The top four teams will qualify for the 2020 FIBA U17 World Cup.
Jones said Wootten and Showalter continue to be huge influences on him as he undertakes the challenge.
“Coach Wootten was always able to adjust and be extremely successful no matter the era,” Jones said. “So, his adaptability is one of the things I’ve always taken from him. He and I still communicate. I was able to talk to him just recently about eighth graders going from middle school and their adjustment to the high school game and their maturity level. He’s always a good sounding board for me.
“He’s like Yoda, the Jedi master. He’s teaching you, and you don’t even know he’s teaching you through storytelling and just everything. He is an amazing person. I put coach Don Showalter in the same category. He’s been an amazing influence on my career.”
This will be the fourth time Jones has traveled overseas as a coach with USA Basketball, but his first trip as a head coach. He previously has coached teams competing in Mexico, Lithuania and Spain as an assistant coach, and he has earned three gold medals.
“Being in the leadership role for the first time, I’m truly honored and excited,” Jones said. “It is something that I feel like coach Showalter and the entire USA Basketball organization has prepared myself and the coaches for. Luckily, I firmly understand the expectation. The standard is set. We’re supposed to win. We’re going to grow the game. We’re going to teach these young players the game properly, but ultimately we want to win.”
Jones has coached six players at DeMatha who went on to play in the NBA. He has crossed paths with so many future college and pro stars in his roles with USA Basketball that he almost always sees someone he knows when he attends an NBA game. He said having those lasting relationships with players and their families is a special part of the job.
He said he has learned a lot in his experience coaching in international competition under FIBA rules, and much of what he has learned has helped him become a better coach at DeMatha. He said the 24-second shot clock is one specific example. He said it has forced him to refine his time management within segments of the game, and his teams are better for it.
In the 17 years he has been a head coach at the high school level, the world has changed dramatically. Many of the issues and pressures players face these days didn’t even exist when Jones first took over for Wootten.
Jones said the issue he spends the most time on with his players away from the game is how they use social media and how they prioritize it.
“The largest difference is just with social media and what the internet can do and its impact and their mentality,” Jones said. “The internet influences what kids work on. Highlights and things like that from all over the country, that kind of dictates what kids want to work on and want to get better at.
“I am fortunate enough to work with guys who all have expectations that they’re college athletes, college scholarship players. I just try to instill to them that they have a brand in their name. They represent themselves. Obviously, they represent their family, they represent their school and pretty much everything they do they have to be careful with because they’ve got to know that people are always watching.”