When you have been a head basketball coach for 21 years, you tend to have a pretty good feel for your team. Jones is now in his 13th season at American — he previously spent eight years at Virginia, his alma mater — and his gut feelings about his team are correct more often than not.
Which was why he wasn’t stunned when the Eagles came out absolutely flat eight days ago at Holy Cross and were never in the game, losing 79-60. Jones tried all the coaching tricks he’s learned through the years. He called three timeouts in the first 10 minutes of the game. He screamed. He cajoled. He soothed.
“Nothing was going to work that day,” he said. “It’s a cliche but most of the time you do play like you practice. That’s exactly what we did.”
The loss at Holy Cross dropped the Eagles to 6-12 on the season. Jones isn’t accustomed to that sort of record. AU has won at least 20 games in four of the past five seasons. That wasn’t the worst of it, though, according to Jones. What really bothered him was the notion that his team had stopped getting better.
“Every season is about convincing your players that they need to get better individually and as a team,” he said. “We lost some games early on that we would have won if we’d done some little things well — but we didn’t. That’s basketball. Sometimes you play teams [like Georgetown and Kansas this year] where you can do everything right and you’re still not going to win.
“I don’t ever like to lose. But you can live with losses if you feel like your team is going forward. It’s when you don’t feel that way that you get discouraged or frustrated. You have some of those every year. But some years you have them more than others.”
For Jones, the Holy Cross game was one of those where a coach has to make his team understand that what happened isn’t acceptable. “It’s not the loss itself,” he said. “It’s the way you lost.”
Jones was a superb player under Terry Holland at Virginia, graduating in 1982 as the school’s all-time assists leader. He can remember his old coach getting angry but it was almost always calculated, designed to make a specific point to his players.
“The times he got maddest, at least that I remember, were at halftimes. He would challenge us, ask us if we thought playing the way were was okay.” He laughed. “I do remember one time when he kicked over a water cooler. It wasn’t until later that the managers told me he had told them exactly where to put the cooler before we came into the locker room.”
Jones has lost his temper in the past. When he was at Virginia, he punched a blackboard attached to a wall during a game at Maryland and — not surprisingly — broke his hand.