Two years ago, very few followers of area basketball had heard of Anthony Jones. He's moved from Hamilton Junior High to Dunbar, perennially one of the top basketball powers, as just another sophomore. But a twist of fate gave him a rare opportunity to start as a sophomore.
"After I made the varsity, I really didn't think that I would play that much my first year," he recalls. "But Chucky Jackson (a preseason All-American in 1978) injured his foot and I got my big chance."
Longtime observers of area high school basketball say Jones was the most poised sophomore ever to play here. He averaged 10 points and eight rebounds his first season, but, more importantly, he established a penchant for making big plays.
Few can forget his performance that year in the City Field House. With his team trailing by 3 with less than a minute remaining, Jones made two pressure plays, scoring on a layup following the steal of an inbound pass and later sinking two free throws to put his team ahead. The Crimson Tide eventually lost the game, but Jones had established himself.
He averaged 24.4 points and 14 rebounds a game last year as a junior, en route to earning first-team All-Met honors and leading his team to a 22-4 mark.
At 6-6, he is tall enough and leaps well enough to play small forward; yet, he is such an adept ball handler and shooter that he can play shooting guard.
His style can be best described as silky smooth. He always seems in control and hardly ever shows emotion on the court. But Jones says it hasn't always been that way.
"When I was a junior in high, I used to get upset and show a lot of emotion," he explains slowly. "I didn't like to lose and I would get frustrated. Then one day the athletic director, O'Neal Stuckey, told me that I would have to work to improve my attitude then or I would have problems with high school coaches. That was a good piece of advice because I can really see how important it is to have a good attitude."
The saying, "Take what the defense gives you," is commonly used in football. It also fits Jones. When opponents play him close, he uses his long strides and tremendous first step to go by them.
If they play off him, he loads up the trigger and guns in his jump shot from outside. If the teams play zone, he'll sneak inside for slick layups or alley-oops. Then if teams get desperate enough and double-team, Jones uses his peripheral vision to pass (six assists per game) off to open teammates.
He is the consummate team player, operating with precision within the framework of the Dunbar team-oriented system. Yet, you sense he is a take-charge player. It was evident in the Jeleff Summer League this past summer.
He put on one of his most outstanding performances. He scored 39 points -- in every way imaginable -- pulled down 17 rebounds and dealt out eight assists to lead Dunbar to a 95-90 victory over De Matha in the championship game. For his efforts, Jones was named Tournament Most Valuable Player for the second year in a row.
"In that game, I had my rhythm down," said Jones. "I don't usually look to score that much, but it was a big game and the team needed a lift. I'm basically a team player. I enjoy winning, not statistics."
Jones is the latest in a long line of Dunbar greats -- Craig Shelton (Georgetown/Atlanta Hawks), John Duren (Georgetown/Utah Jazz), Kenny Matthews (N.C. State), Joe Holston (Tulane) and Terry Tibbs (Norfolk State).
He already has been selected for seral All-American teams, including the second team in Street & Smith's Basketball Yearbook. Who's Who of basketball.
Meanwhile, as Jones tries to live up to his status as the area's premier player and one of the best in the country, recruiters write, call and visit from everywhere, trying to lure him to their programs.
All this attention and flattery leveled at an 18-year-old can sometimes create tremendous pressure. But Jones says he and his coach, Joe Dean-Davidson, have worked out a formula.
"The coach has helped me a lot with the recruiting," Jones said. "They all have to come through him before they can talk to me. That alleviates any pressure."
He says that if there is any pressure, it is on his team. They are ranked second in the country by some publications.
"When you are ranked that high, you can't afford a letdown because everybody gets up for you. That's why we are going to have to work harder than ever."
The Dunbar team certainly has the horses to meet the challenge. Joining Jones up front will be All-America honorable mention Sylvester Charles (6-7), versatile Will Rogers (6-6), physical Phil Bullock (6-5, 230) and Ronald Jones (6-3), Michael Wright (5-9) and Tyrone Scott (5-11) form probably the best point guard duo anywhere.
Before making his college selection, Jones says two things are essential. "The institution I select will have to have a good business program. I plan to major in business management and I want to make sure I get the best training possible to prepare me for my career.
"The second factor will be the coach. I don't want a coach who is always browbeating his players. I relate better to coaches who take time to develop players and communicate with them."