The University of the District of Columbia has four separate campuses and a handful of buildings scattered about the city. First-year students often ask, "Where am I?"
Athletically, UDC went a long way toward answering that question yesterday.
Earl Jones, an 18-year-old 6-foot-10 basketball all-America who played his senior year at Spingarn High School, instantly put the university on the national athletic map when he officially announced he would attend the Division II school.
"If anyone can give our school a national identity Earl can," said UDC's loquacious second-year coach, Wil Jones. "Five years from now, people won't remember who we played, they'll just remember we were undefeated.
"There is a difference between a very good player and a great player. Earl is a great player.
"My schedule is not finalized yet and I imagine there might be a change or two," the coach said with a sly smile. "I have about 15 or 16 Division II teams, more than enough to qualify for the NCAA playoffs.Maybe some teams will call me now, maybe they won't. I could use a few more games and I'll play anyone."
Earl Jones, who had a 3.5 grade point average this year, did not achieve the 2.0 accumulative average necessary for a Division I scholarship. Despite reports that had him going to UCLA or Nevada-Las Vegas, Jones said at a press conference yesterday he had intended on signing with UDC regardless of his final average.
"I like the area, the people, and I wanted to go to a school where I didn't have to follow in anyone's footsteps," he said. "UDC is a good school for me and I'm happy with my decision.
So is Wil Jones. The phone that rarely rang last year when he needed games is now jingling off the hook. The media want interviews. Fans want to offer good wishes. Some coaches want to talk about getting on the schedule.
"Even before Jones decided to come here I called around to get the bigger schools to play us," Wil Jones said. "Everyone around here claimed their schedule was filled. We have one of the greatest areas for basketball and we can't find room on the schedules to play one another.
"Sure, I'm optimistic," he said. "I'm always optimistic. I don't care who is on my team. I hope we go 30-0 and I don't care if we play the Little Sisters of the Poor."
The coach has every reason to think playoffs. Last year, the school finished 16-11, the best record since D.C. Teachers College, Washington Technical Institute and Federal City College merged into UDC in 1975.
Jones has four starters returning. Guards Hawkeye Daniels and Greg Carson and forwards Steve Smith and Mike Britt, who had to drop off the team last year when some irregularities were found in his high school transcript, should complement Earl Jones nicely.
Also, the school will play its games in a new 3,500-seat complex being completed on the Van Ness Campus on upper Connecticut Avenue NW sometime in January. The school offers two-year, four-year and graduate degrees in more than 125 vocational, technical and academic areas. More than 13,000 students were enrolled last year.
"I hope we're in the new gym by Christmas," Coach Jones said.
"We might explore the idea of playing a few games in a big place, like the Armory.
"I consider myself a pioneer. I was one of the first black players at AU, the only black coach at that time in Northern Virginia (at Robinson High school in Fairfax five years) and one of the few black assistants in the ACC.
"Black basketball was a big part of this area and I would love to see it come back," he said. "Like the old CIAA, you couldn't get a seat at some of those games. I want it to be like that at our new place."
Earl Jones, who transferred to Spingarn this year after playing three years at Mount Hope (W.Va.) High School, played before standing room crowds nearly everywhere he went.
He averaged 20 points, 16 rebounds, seven blocks and five assists this year and led Spingarn to a 25-2 record and the Interhigh and city championships.
"People say he needs to get bigger, or needs to work on this," said Coach Jones. "Earl doesn't need anything. He can do it all. The greatest attribute in any sport is quickness and he has that. I realize he might not be here but one year, two at the most. And I will be the first one to escort him out of here when he decides to go pro. When he feels he's competent enough to go pro, he should go."
Right now, Coach Jones is more concerned with next year's schedule. Last year, UDC played such schools as Gallaludet, Trenton State and Southeastern. Because of the problems in scheduling, Jones may not have any choice but to play them again.
"I wouldn't try to drop them anyway," said Jones. "Gallaudet and Southeastern are community schools and I'm not going to be like some other coaches. You can't build anything positive dropping schools when you suddenly get stronger.
"I realize the NCAA says, to be eligible for the tournament, schools have to have a schedule that includes 85 percent Division I schools," Jones said. t"So right now, I got zip games against Division I schools. Maybe with Earl here, I might get one or two. I know if I was a coach, I would love to play against him. One games doesn't make or break you."
Earl Jones and his guardian, William (Doc) Robinson, say they don't think the decision to attend UDC would hurt Jones' chances of signing a big pro contract.
"People thought just because I came from a small school in West Virginia, I couldn't play up here," Jones said. "I can play with anyone. Playing with UDC won't hurt me. Competition is competition. There are a lot of players in the NBA that came from small schools."
Robinson, who became Earl Jones' legal guardian last summer, said the decision to attend UDC was the player's alone.
"We wanted him to get that 2.0 so people couldn't say the only reason he went to UDC was because he didn't predict," Robinson said. "He wanted to go to a school where he would be happy. I think he'll be very happy there."
"People forget most kids have choices of going to a Division I or Division II school," said Coach Jones, who was a small college all-America while at AU. "Just because a kid gets a 2.0 doesn't mean he's tabbed for the big schools.
"I don't know why we get caught up in that kind of thinking. There are a lot of pro teams who would love to have Ricky Mahorn (Hampton Institute). And mark my words, he'll go high in the draft Tuesday."
Earl Jones said he would study physical education or recreation at UDC. He also did not rule out the possibility of staying all four years.
"The money has to be right for me to leave," he said. "I know what some first-year players get and I have an idea of what I might be worth. A million wouldn't be bad."
The coach insists he's not concerned about the length of Jones' stay at UDC. He is far more interested in establishing his school's credibility.
"When Earl is gone, schools won't have any qualms about coming here to play us," the coach said. "My track record is good. I came from a good program (Maryland, where he was assistant coach) and I have a good program now.
"I go after the best players in the country. I know this game and I will recruit," he said. "One thing for sure, I got the best player in the country this year."