Viewpoint Jones learning from the best in new coaching gig
HARTFORD — He watched as Jim Calhoun screamed for a timeout 41 seconds into his much-anticipated return to coaching. Mike Sagay had been dunked on and he would be the first recipient of Calhoun’s legendary quick hook.
He watched, as 15 minutes later, Calhoun got called for a technical foul for offering a little too much wisdom and a lot too much sarcasm to official Jawaan Williams, who in a delightful bit of irony, happens to be a UConn grad.
He watched, in the midst of a second-half run that made St. Josepha 79-74 winner over William Paterson, as Calhoun reacted to a turnover by slamming his raised chair to the ground.
And when it was over at Trinity College on Friday night, as the 76-year-old Calhoun was telling anybody who figured he had turned kinder and gentler how wrong they were, Rashamel Jones smiled and said one word.
Calhoun’s son, Jeff, one of the Blue Jays’ assistant coaches, had made sure his dad’s chair was secure. Jones was talking about the extended family, one where he also has joined Calhoun’s first-year St. Joseph coaching staff.
“It is something I always wanted to do,” Jones said.
He had played pro ball after UConn’s national championship season in 1999, played in Europe and Australia and the Eastern Basketball Association. With the help of Calhoun and academic advisor Ted Taigen he would return to UConn in 2005 and serve as a student assistant as he completed his sociology degree.
“Then life happened,” said Jones.
He worked for the Connecticut Department of Children and Families for a couple years. He returned to New York to work for Hooperstown in Mount Vernon, managing a basketball facility, coaching AAU, running camps from 2007 to 2014. He returned to the state last year.
“Once I came back to Connecticut, I said it’s a perfect time,” Jones said. “I’m in a good space. I wanted not only to get back into the game, but to help my former coach, who had taken us to the top, in any way I can. He’s a guy I respect so much.
“Once I saw he was coming back, I said, ‘man, I’d love to be part of this.’”
Jones has a full-time job as a registered behavioral technician in the Middletown school system.
“My day is very interesting,” Jones said. “There are 10-12 kids I work with on a daily basis. I basically curb behavioral tendencies they may have, language, aggression, and try to get them to focus. A lot of these kids can’t sit down for 10-15 minutes. We’ll take a break. Refresh them. Go over things we just went over.”
He heads to West Hartford around 3 p.m. to assist Calhoun and Glen Miller.
“I’m starting at the ground floor and looking to work my way up in coaching,” Jones said. “I want to be in a family-oriented situation. One thing my high school coach, Mike Walsh, taught me, ‘Every job is not a good job.’ I’m not out here just fishing.
“I want to learn from the best in coach Calhoun and coach Miller. Coach Miller is a wizard. I call him a basketball genius. Those two guys, c’mon, they are the best teachers.”
Jones had learned under Walsh at Trinity Catholic, too. Every morning at 7:06 a.m. he used to take the Metro North from Port Chester to Stamford. At Trinity Catholic, he developed into a star under the legendary Walsh, who retired this year.
“Think about it: 39 years on the sideline, amazing,” said Jones, who recently was inducted into the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame. “He’s so well respected throughout the state. I can talk about Coach Walsh all day long.
“I was 14-15 when I first went there, happy go lucky, Coach Walsh and Mr. (Tracy) Nichols (former AD and baseball coach) got me straight thinking about academics. They opened my eyes that sports doesn’t happen without academics.”
UConn did happen for Jones from 1995 to 1999. He started as a sophomore, averaging 13 points. Only Richard Hamilton scored more that season. He has seen Calhoun erupt as much as anyone.
“I do and I don’t,” Jones said about talking to the young players about Calhoun’s temper. “A lot of it is going through the fire. We’ve had two exhibitions and one game now. When you have a guy who is very passionate, who loves what he does so much, there really isn’t that much to explain.
“I know a lot of coaches who have been in the game a long time and they don’t show that passion. That stuff rubs off on you. When I was at UConn, the older guys would tell you so much, but some things you’ve got to learn on your own as you go along.”
Jones is 6-4. Calhoun would use him up front against much bigger opponents. He was all heart and will. Freshman Noreaga Davis, who starts up front for St. Joseph, maybe touches 6-4. There are parallels.
“He’s from Bridgeport,” Jones said. “Bridgeport, Norwalk, Stamford, there are some hard-nosed guys,” Jones said. “Nore’s one of them. He doesn’t care about size. He battles for every rebound. He’s going to do the little things that I did as a player.”
Jones did some big things, too. After he lost his starting job at UConn, he was a captain of the first national championship team in 1999. The night he scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds after coming off the bench to replace injured Kevin Freeman in the 1998 Big East championship game probably captures best what Jones is all about. He would make the all-tournament team, too. That night, Calhoun said, “Rashamel showed us what our program is all about. Watching him tonight was probably the best moment I have had in coaching.”
“I cherish that (Syracuse) game,” Jones said. “Coach had said a lot of people would have folded, not playing prior to that, not be ready. I was always ready.
“When you are in a family community, if it’s not your turn, it’s your brother’s turn. When I wasn’t starting any more, it was ‘OK, I’m still going to play.’ I’m going to cheer my brother on and when it’s my turn, I’m going to get it done. I’ve got a different mentality than some about a team.”
So there he was on the floor in those final seconds at St. Petersburg against Duke, the closing seconds of his college career. After Ricky Moore had forced a travel on Trajan Langdon, after Khalid El-Amin sank the two free throws to make it 77-74, Jones picked up Langdon in full flight. As Langdon tripped, failing to get a last shot off, El-Amin rushed to the cameras and screamed, “We shocked the world!”
There was Rashamel Jones holding the ball above his head, a national champion.
“Greatest feeling ever,” he said. “I can pick up the phone to this day and call any one of those guys. That’s what I’m talking about with family. That’s what I want to be part of.”