Coaches Corner: Mike Jones
The head boys basketball coach at famed DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland for 19 years (2002-03 to present), Mike Jones 21 times has served as a USA Basketball coach, and in 2019 he was named as a co-recipient of the USA Basketball Developmental Coach of the Year award.
Most recently, Jones led the USA men to gold at the 2019 FIBA Americas U16 Championship, he was the lead coach at the 2019 USA Men’s Junior National Team July minicamp and a court coach at the 2019 USA MJNT October minicamp.
Three times he was the USA’s head coach at the Nike Hoop Summit (2013, 2014 and 2018), and he was an assistant at the Hoop Summit in 2012 and 2017.
Jones got his start with USA Basketball as an assistant coach for the 2004 Youth Development Festival East Team; he won gold medals with the 2011 U16 team and 2012 and 2016 U17 teams; and prior to 2019, he served as a coach at the annual October minicamp eight times (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018).
In 2019-20 Jones led DeMatha to a 30-3 record, won an eighth Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship and earned his 500th victory on Feb. 24, 2020. Serving as DeMatha’s interim head coach in his first season in 2002-03, Jones has amassed a 500-119 overall record at DeMatha (.808 winning percentage).
USA Basketball spoke with Jones to get his insight and perspective on coaching.
How has COVID-19 impacted your season and how you are dealing with your athletes?
So, two answers. I think one, it has truly made me appreciate them and the time I get to spend with them more. Going as long as we did, initially in the pandemic, without being able to talk to them and be around them, it really was clear how much I personally enjoy coaching. And for them to be around each other, to see how happy they were the first time we were able to get back together. It truly speaks to the sport a brotherhood and our team really being a close family. So that's one.
And then two, it's made us refocus our priorities. In a season where we're just lucky to be able to play and with the landscape changing with college recruitment and the impact that it's had on high school seniors. I think the biggest thing for us right now, logistically, is to put the priority on trying to get our seniors as much opportunity as possible to compete, so that they have a better chance at being seen by colleges so they can further their careers. Because with the rule changes with no one losing a year of eligibility (in the NCAA) this year, and then students being able to transfer without having to sit out a year, it's changed recruiting. So, I think those are the two biggest things that I've noticed.
What do you wish you knew about coaching when you first started out?
I think the biggest thing is just making sure that I value the relationships that are created, and how much, honestly, the job impacts all of my relationships and specifically within my family. Being driven and striving to be successful and striving to guide the young men that I'm fortunate enough to coach to be successful, those relationships that you establish will be around for a lifetime. It’s something you can never take for granted. But then also knowing that there are sacrifices that are made, and a lot of times within my own family. I spend so much time around my players, and my team and my program, your family a lot of times has to truly understand the commitment that it takes to try to be as successful as you possibly can and try to pour into these kids as much as possible. So, it's a double-edged sword, so to speak.
What is the most important characteristic you work to develop in your athletes?
It's tough to choose, so I'd like to give two.
The first one would be the way I was taught by my coach was priorities. God being first, family being second, academics being third and then basketball or whatever sport it is being fourth. So, having your priorities in order is always a focus.
But then also, especially now, resiliency. Just being able to whatever cards, you're dealt, whatever hand you're dealt, to be able to put your nose to the ground and fight through it. And especially in a time like now, with so much going on and so much uncertainty. Things that our kids have absolutely zero control over, just being able to really encourage them to fight through it. And no matter what happens to you, you find a way to persevere through it and be resilient.
Those are the those are definitely the two qualities I think are most important in terms of their character.
How do you help them develop resiliency?
I think the biggest thing is everything is so unpredictable, but you want to empower them to think for themselves and to make the right decisions. There are times we have to guide them to do that. Whether it be as simple as in a game, and things aren't going your way, like you're not making your shots, the referees are calling it a little tighter than you're normally used to, or whatever, if it's that. If it's in the classroom, and you kind of feel like the teacher is picking on you, or whatever. You take those things, and then obviously in life that can be much bigger than that. When things aren't going your way, what do you do? Do you point the finger at others and make it someone else's fault? Or do you look in the mirror and say, ‘Okay, well, this is the situation, so how am I going to make the best of that? Or how am I going to fix it?’ I think it becomes much bigger than the lessons that you can learn within the game of basketball, but those can apply to so many things outside.
Is there one overall offensive principle you think is most important?
Our offenses are always changing. I do believe now with the way the game is being played the one principle that is required is unselfishness, as well as movement. Those two things – you have to be willing to share the ball, but you also have to be willing to move the ball and not get it stuck, not over dribble, to always be able and capable. For the elite athletes who play with other players, other really good players, a lot of times as they grow up, they're the best player on their team. So, they learn how to dominate the basketball. But when you get to either an elite high school, or you're at college and then obviously beyond that, you're always going to be on the floor with four other really good basketball players, and your ability to be able to play effectively with them is a learned skill, especially if you've always been allowed to dominate the basketball. You have to learn how to play with others. And I think that's something that USA Basketball does very well, I believe that's something that DeMatha does very well, and I think that's why a lot of times, our young men go on to be successful.