When Coach Wil Jones leads his University of the District of Columbia basketball team into the first round of the NCAA's Division II tournament tonight, he will be armed with three Cs. He'll be confident, cocky and "certain I'm gonna whip your butt."
That's Jones' philosophy, according to Eddie Clements, the principal of Takoma Park Junior High School, who labored four years in Jones' shadow as, in Jones' cocky words, "the other guard" at American University.
They played together in the late 1950s, in the days when Jones was called Willie. He was a black kid scrapping his way through a mostly white world and scoring 30 points a game along the way. He was brash, he was loud. He was aggressive, energetic, flamboyant, unpredictable and cocky. Some might even say obnoxious.
"Now that I think of it," Jones mused this week, "the way I was, I probably couldn't have stood myself."
Times change. Jones is past 40. He is in a position of responsibility as coach of the blossoming UDC basketball program. He is called a more dignified "Wil" or "Coach."
What kind of guy is the grown-up Jones? Brash. Loud. Aggressive, energetic, flamboyant, unpredictable, cocky. Some might even say obnoxious.
It is not quite noon in Jones' cluttered office in the crumbling remains of UDC's soon-to-be-abandoned downtown campus. The coach peers out through dark glasses. "I got drunk last night," he explains wearily. "I got a headache . . ."
Undaunted, for the next two hours he rattles on relentlessly about Wil Jones and UDC and the past, present and future, about cockiness and flamboyance and how they got him where he is. The thoughts change course so fast it's hard work just trying to follow.
"Believe about half what he tells you," advises Clements, with a chuckle.
Wil Jones grew up in the 1000 block of Lamont Street NW. His father was a waiter on the Pennsylvania Railroad; his mother "had her hands full raising me."
He was never the retiring type. "In this town you had to have your brothers. I only had one and he was eight years older. I had to fight for survival as a little guy, and the woofin' (bragging) took the pressure off. Nobody knew what you might do."
He went to Dunbar High School, at the time the top academic high school for blacks in the city. "Dunbar was a timid school from Jump Street," said Jones. So he started making athletic noise, offering outrageous challenges.
He told opponents and opposing teams' fans what he thought of them, loudly and publicly, as in, "You ain't nothing."
"I'd call 'em up before the game and say, 'You can't check me,' " said Jones. "When I went to a tournament the first thing I asked was, 'Where's the MVP trophy? Because that's gonna be in my case tomorrow.'
"We had to be volatile and I just stayed that way. I was psyched out to win."
He made all-Met.
In 1957, the year Jones graduated from Dunbar, there were no black players at the major colleges in the Washington area. Jones wanted to go to Michigan State, but Dave Carrasco, then American University's basketball coach, heard about him and Dickie Wells, another local black star. AU decided to take the step.
"He swooped down on my parents and it was all over," said Jones.
Jones, spurred on by the catcalls of Mason-Dixon fans, became a 5-foot-11 Little all-America. He led AU three straight times to the NCAA small-college quarterfinals. In one tournament game he scored 54 points. No one, before or since, has bettered that mark.
This week there was a surprise visitor at UDC practice. Carrasco, who now runs a Job Corps program in El Paso, Tex., was in town for a conference. He stopped in to wish Jones well.
"Ah," Jones said to a visitor chatting with Carrasco, "I see you met my great white father."
What kind of guy was Jones at AU?
"He was cocky and flamboyant," said Carrasco. "He dressed real sharp. He won games right at the very end with clutch shots.
"And he took the longest showers of anyone I ever saw."
In the late 1950s, Carrasco said, black players were under siege on many campuses. "But the more they ridiculed Wil," said Carrasaco's wife Marge, "the harder he played."
"Oh, it was all there," said Jones. "You'd come in the gym and they'd be singing 'Bye, Bye Blackbird,' calling you 'Jackie Robinson.' But that old man (Carrasco) was sharp.
"One day at Roanoke we wanted to fight. They were screaming at us. He said, 'When you get home, you get your buddies and your cars and come back and fight. Right now, you play basketball.'
"I scored 44 that night; set the gym record. Now who's gonna go back tomorrow and fight?"
Jones graduated from AU. He taught elementary school in Northern Virginia and coached with dramatic success at Robinson High. He was assistant coach at the University of Maryland for three years before taking over at UDC in 1978. For more than a decade he has done all the things that are expected of a productive, responsible adult in society.
Yet a word that comes not infrequently to many who have known Jones, when asked to describe his coaching style, is "crazy." At games, many see in him an out-of-control brilliance as he stomps along the sideline in a tailored suit, his jewelry glittering.
"What kind of coach is he?" UDC's star forward Michael Britt said this winter, repeating a question. "He's a crazy coach."
"He's crazy, all right," said Clements. "Crazy like a fox."
The UDC Firebirds, ranked third in the nation in Division II, face Virginia Union in the regional championships at Emmitsburg, Md., tonight. It's their first experience ever in postseason play. If they win, Saturday they face the winner of the Mount St. Mary's-Virginia State game.
If UDC survives the regionals it must win three more games, including the quarterfinals at home, to be national Division II champion. The Firebirds thus are five victories from a national title.
Most UDC players are city kids from backgrounds not unlike Jones'. Talking his street talk, woofin', stalking the sidelines, swearing, shouting, wearing his sleek clothes and driving his fancy cars, he offers his players something they can recognize. But he's not a pal.
"Remember," says Jones, "I'm smarter than them. I can make them think what I want them to. They know I'm strong and fair, and they know I'll fight for them when they're right. I'm dealing with the psychology of the mind.
"We want to do something that hasn't been done in a long time in this city: win a national championship. If we win five ball games, we're there.
"This weekend the deck is stacked against us (playing on Mount St. Mary's home court). That's all right. The deck's been stacked against me all my life."