Five minutes after Earl Jones, Spingarn High School's 6-foot-10 all-American basketball player signed with the University of the District of Columbia, Firebird Coach Wil Jones stationed himself by his phone to await a deluge of calls from colleges seeking games.
Surprisingly, the phone didn't ring. In fact, Jones said he spent much of the next few weeks the looking for opponents to upgrade the UDC schedule.
"I tried everyone in this area -- George Washington, American, George Mason, you name it -- but they said they didn't have open dates on their schedules," Jones said. "In fact, George Mason and I had a good TV deal working until they pulled out. I didn't Call Maryland and Georgetown because they're better than we are, no doubt about it. It wouldn't do my program any good to play them right now. We're turning the corner too fast now.
"Of course, Earl is our big attraction and everyone expects immediate success." Jones continued. "We have to establish a schedule that's attractive, one that can establish credibility for us."
One phone call Jones did receive requesting a game was from former Bullet Clem Haskins, now the head coach at Western Kentucky. Jones quickly accepted.
"He called after Jones signed," the coach said. "He has a big house to fill (13,500) and he needed a game.
"Let's face it, the real good teams play you for two reasons. One, they feel they can get an automatic victory and, two, they feel you have a good drawing card and they can make some money," Jones said. "Actually, the team will schedule you quick if they feel they can achieve both. We know Earl is a drawing card right now. He was the best high school player in the country last year and people would like to see him play. I'm not satisfied with my schedule. How can I be with all those games on the road?
"But we'll play anyone," Jones went on. "There's no disgrace being beaten by the best in the country. In the next few years, our schedule will be much better. Severl top teams have already said they would love to play a home-and-home series beginning in 1981. This year, we just have to sacrifice."
UDC, a Division II school, is scheduled to play only two Division I schools, Western Kentucky and Howard. The majority of the other 24 teams on the schedule are Division II but, as Jones is quick to point out. "They are among the best in the country."
The teams Jones referred to are Clarion State and Wright State, both of whom have been in the NCAA Division II playoffs the last few seasons. Only three of the 26 teams on the schedule had losing records last year and, because the new UDC facility will not be ready as hoped, Jones' team must play 18 games on the road. UDC will play its eight home games at the D.C. Armory.
"We have to go to the lion's den and play this year," Jones said. "We would like to make the playoffs but it won't be easy. Playing 18 games on the road is tough. And these are real good teams. Morgan State, Univeristy of Charleston, Kentucky State, Lincoln University -- those are good teams."
Jones knows his star attraction, who has already received feelers from the NBA, could decide to chase the megabucks at anytime. In the meantime, the outspoken, flamboyant second-year coach his starting making long-range plans to make UDC a household name in area basketball.
"We have two great Division I teams in this area (Maryland and Georgetown); let them play the Division I bigshots," Jones said. "There's room for a great Division II team. We'll play the Division II bigshots . . . show people there is some great basketball being played the smaller cities.
"We would love to bring in some of the still-good CIAA teams or play schools like Grambling, Alcorn State, the good black colleges," he said. "A four-team tournament with four of those schools would go over big. The CIAA used to have some of the greatest basketball around. Look at the players that came out of the CIAA and some of the other black schools."
UDC opens it season in Atlanta, joining three Georgia schools in the Atlanta Classic, Nov. 28-29. The following weekened, the Firebirds will play in the Clarion (pa.) four-team tournament. UDC will play its first home game against Lincoln Dec. 9 and will meet Howard Dec. 16 at the Armory.
The dates for the postseason NCAA Division II playoffs are printed at the end of the Firebird schedule. Jones expects to make that trip.