Wil Jones is in his second season as head basketball coach at the University of the District of Columbia. Last year, he signed 7-foot center Earl Jones, among the top high school players in the nation. Despite the presence of Jones and four returning players from a 16-11 team, UDC has struggled this season. In an interview with Washington Post Staff Writer Donald Huff, the coach talks about his star center and the status of the UDC basketball program.
Q: At this points, your team is only 8-8. What have been your major problems and are you disappointed in your team's performance this year?
A: Our main problem is that we're young and still learning how to play the game. Earl is just a freshman but his fugures aren't too bad, 20 points and 13 rebounds. Look around the country and tell me what freshman is doing better. I've been around basketball long enough to know that people expected us to be good because of Earl. But when you have to play 19 of your 27 games on the road, you can't sneak up on anyone. It's been tough on both Earl and the other fellows. We have demonstrated we have the talent to be better but everyone will lose a few games.
Q: did you upgrade your schedule a little too soon, especially when the majority of your games are on the road?
A: When I took this job, I promised the university I would put them on the map. They promised me a new gymnasium. I kept my end of the deal. They told me the gym would be ready last September; then it was January; now it's scheduled to open in September 1981. No, we don't have a good feeling about our home-game situation, but what can we do? The D.C. Aromory would have been perfect but when we were making up our schedule, we didn't know how many games we could play there or we would have scheduled more. We scheduled some good teams, both Division 1 and 2, and next year we'll have a few other well-known teams. No, it wasn't a mistake to play better teams. I know I can get the games I want. Several big schools have contacted me about games next year.
Q: With Jones and other players such as Mike Britt, is UDC considering going Division 1?
A: It would be a terrible idea. We should stay right where we are, in Division 2. First, we couldn't handle the financial part of being in Division 1. We're getting good exposure nationwide and, in a few years, UDC will be an excellent Division 2 program. Even when Earl is not here, I feel I can get good players. We're going upwards. We just ned to educate the people around us. Our athletic department doesn't even control our money. Each student pays an athletic fee of $17 and the athletic department gets only $7 to be split up. Know anyone who'll sponsor us?
Q: People keep asking what's wrong with Earl Jones.
A: Not one thing. What do people want him to do? He's done everything here I've here I've asked him to do. Earl is young and still needs time. How can I be disappointed in him? He's definitely helped our program. I know he may decide to go pro after one of these years but I hope he stays. If people left him alone, he would do fine. He's a great team player and he'll be as good as he wants to be. He has to improve in a few areas but, don't forget, he's a finesse player. Once he combines strength with finesse, he'll be tremendous.
Q: Is the criticism of Jones' sometimes lackadaisical play justified?
A: I don't compare Earl with any other players. I just think he's been expected to do too much. He will mature and be a much better player in time but, right now, people won't leave him alone. Just give him time.
Q: People say you have used Jones to get UDC's program off the ground.Is that true?
A: Of course, Earl has put our program on the map. People identify us with him. But, we have other good players. We're helping Earl just like he is helping us. I don't think anyone is taking advantage of anyone. I get tired of hearing people say Earl is being used. That's not true. How can it be? Earl likes it here and has adjusted very well to the school.
Q: Recently, you became so irate over the officiating in the Wright State game, you walked off the court with your team with five minutes left to play.Do you regret doing that?
A: I stand by my decision. It's not that I felt we were being cheated but I felt those two adults (referees) were destroying my dignity and the character of my team. They talk about coaches cheating on grades, recruiting and other unethical ways to get players. No one says anything about the officials who have not kept up with the game and come in and abuse youngsters. After a few of the calls, one official even had the nerve to apologize. I just felt I didn't need to put my kids through that sort of situation. The officials called seven technicals on my team and had absolutely no control whatsover. I have an education and I know when people aren't being honest. I don't think that will hurt my program at all. I know I'm not the first coach who has felt he was not being treated fairly. I don't want anyone to cheat for me; just give me a fair shake.
Q: After so much preseason talk, would you consider this year a disaster if your team fails to make the NCAA Division 2 playoffs?
A: Listen, I'm new at this. Right now, I don't even know what I have to do to make the playoffs. I know I need to win the rest of my games to have a good chance.Anything less than 17 or 18 wins might not do it. We can do it but with all these games on the road, it won't be easy. I'd be disappointed if we don't get to the playoffs only because I know we can play with these teams. If Wright State is the No. 1 team in Division 2, then I know we belong in the playoffs. We trailed them by five at their place in the last five minutes before those mystery calls came.
Q. How long will it take for UDC to have the type of program you envision?
A: We're on our way now. We've begun to attract the good, local kids who want to stay home. The new facility will certainly help attract both kids and more teams. One problem is budget. I need my full allotment of 12 grants rather than 10 to get the good athletes. People still look down on us or have that I-don't-know-about-UDC attitude. pWe need to convince people our school gives kids a good education. Everyone wants to tear down the program but I'm proud of these kids. They've been under a magnifying glass all year and held up well. You can't ask any more than that.