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DeMatha taps St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes’s Mike Jones as next basketball coach

St. Stephen's/St. Agnes Coach Mike Jones is set to take over the celebrated DeMatha basketball program. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

The DeMatha basketball program ended a long and much-discussed search for a permanent head coach Thursday by turning to a familiar name with an unfamiliar face.

Mike Jones, the head boys’ basketball coach at St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes, will take over the most prestigious job in D.C. area high school basketball, becoming the Stags’ third full-time leader since 1956. He inherits the job from another Mike Jones, the longtime Stags coach who left to become the top assistant at Virginia Tech last spring.

“This is something that you can’t really dream of. It’s just that big, in my opinion,” Jones said. “I’m so looking forward to the opportunity.”

In five seasons as the head coach in Alexandria, the 47-year old Jones led St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes to three Interstate Athletic Conference titles and propelled the Saints to a new level of local recognition.

“I’m proud of the culture that was built there by my coaching staff and I,” Jones said. “We had 100 percent buy-in from the parents and the administrators. We tried to bring in guys that were great for the community, and I felt we were able to do that. … Every day we tried to show up and work extremely hard to let the boys know that we love them and that we believe in them.”

The decision may come as a surprise to those who expected the Stags to hire a DeMatha alum or former assistant. After Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten made DeMatha a household name across a dominant 46-year career, the Hyattsville school has boasted an accomplished and proud network of basketball minds.

“My attitude has always been to control what I can control,” Jones said. “I wanted to go in there and be myself, and if they liked me they liked me.”

Bishop O’Connell Coach Joe Wootten, Morgan’s son and a former Stags assistant, was among those interviewed for the position, according to sources close to the search.

The hiring marks the end of an extended period of uncertainty within the program, one that began last spring when Mike Jones left after 19 years to become the top assistant for the Hokies. The school named Pete Strickland, a former college coach and Stags alum, the interim coach for this past season.

That move was met with some public frustration as parents and alumni questioned the school’s decision-making and hiring process. Despite this and a few other early stumbles, the Stags finished 21-7 under Strickland, ending their season with a championship victory at the Alhambra Catholic Invitational in March.

All the while, the DeMatha administration reiterated its desire to have a full hiring process to find Jones’s full-time successor. In late January, the school announced that the search for a new coach had officially begun. It ended more than two months later with the selection of Jones.

“We are grateful to Pete Strickland for stepping up and leading the team this past year and we are thrilled to welcome Coach Jones to DeMatha. His experience, reputation and ability to find the best in players both as individuals and athletes are very consistent with our DeMatha philosophy of academics and athletics,” Father James Day, DeMatha’s president, said in a news release.

Before St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes, Jones coached at Perry Street Prep in the District before working in the video department for the Brooklyn Nets for two years. He was a standout basketball player at TCU and played for 11 years overseas.

As a coach at St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes, Jones said he enjoyed playing in the annual summer league at DeMatha and seeing the pictures of all the famous basketball alumni that lined the halls near the gym. Now, he has been handed an opportunity to find and lead the next crop of famous Stags.

“The tradition, the history, the players, the league — I’m so excited at this wonderful opportunity to put together something special there,” Jones said.