At DeMatha, an outsider goals to fill impossibly massive basketball footwear


Hours after he was formally introduced because the basketball coach at DeMatha Catholic, Mike G. Jones walked into the Copper Canyon Grill simply off the Beltway in Prince George’s County. He was there to fulfill the one man who may relate: Mike Ok. Jones.

The pair have been there that April day to debate one of the crucial sought-after jobs in highschool basketball. Mike Ok. Jones held it for 19 seasons, taking over from Corridor of Famer Morgan Wootten after serving as his star guard and later his assistant.

A 12 months after Jones left to become the top assistant coach at Virginia Tech, the college employed Mike G. Jones from St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes in Alexandria.

And so, the lads met to debate work.

“It was a protracted dinner,” Mike G. Jones, 47, mentioned. “I simply wished to know all about DeMatha and its tradition. The whole lot exterior of the sport. As a result of I do know I’m getting into some massive footwear right here.”

Simply how massive: In 46 years at DeMatha, Wootten received 1,274 games and 33 championships within the rugged Washington Catholic Athletic Convention. For 31 straight years, each senior on his groups obtained a scholarship supply. Mike Ok. Jones took up that mantle, profitable 511 video games and eight convention championships whereas churning out Division I and NBA prospects.

There’s a legacy to guard. Now, after an uncomfortable season of transition and a much-discussed teaching search, the Stags are turning to an outsider.

“You need to embrace the excessive expectations right here, as a result of when you don’t they’ll drive you loopy,” Mike Ok. Jones mentioned of his outdated job. “You need to need that.”

The general public’s first take a look at the brand new Stags got here in mid-June at DMV Reside, a six-day faculty recruiting showcase held at DeMatha.

With faculty coaches gathering within the Hyattsville health club — together with Mike Ok. Jones, entrance row, midcourt — the Stags break up their first two video games. They’re younger and a bit tentative and will use extra dimension. Their protection was passionate if not at all times excellent.

The following day, DeMatha confronted a real check — Baltimore powerhouse St. Frances Academy.

The Stags trailed, took their first lead early within the second half and held on for a 58-51 win. “It’s protection, bro,” Stags guard Isaiah Arnold advised his teammates throughout a timeout. “They’ll’t win if they’ll’t rating.”

In Jones, gamers and coaches say, DeMatha is getting a God-fearing, easygoing basketball junkie.

The Stags are also getting somebody who is aware of how you can play the sport. By the point he graduated from Casady Faculty, he was the main scorer in Oklahoma Metropolis highschool basketball historical past. He spent two years at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M earlier than making the soar to TCU. In two years with the Horned Frogs, he averaged 19.5 factors, six rebounds and 5 assists.

As a coach, Jones has been recognized to affix in capturing drills or settle for the occasional problem of one-on-one.

“I do know all about that,” former St. Stephen’s star Devin Ceaser mentioned with fun. “I performed him sooner or later in the summertime — he had a knee brace on, and I assumed I used to be candy. He obtained me.”

After faculty, Jones performed 11 seasons abroad, together with stops in Turkey, France and China. He then spent two years working for the Brooklyn Nets earlier than settling into the D.C. space, the place his spouse had gotten a job. They’ve two sons, ages eight and 12.

“I’m simply with my household or doing one thing basketball-related,” Jones mentioned merely. “Once I’m not within the health club with my crew, I’m within the health club with [my sons] or out on the soccer discipline or driving them round to observe.”

Jones knew since faculty that he wished to educate, so he spent a lot of his taking part in days observing. He made notes of the issues he preferred sufficient to take with him. Maybe the largest affect on his basketball thoughts was the free-flowing, up-tempo tempo of TCU coach Billy Tubbs. From the second Jones took over at St. Stephen’s in 2017, he employed a breakneck system that emphasised relentless defensive pressure.

Winners of three straight Interstate Athletic Conference championships, the Saints have been one of many few groups exterior of the WCAC that constantly challenged that league’s prime members.

The Saints’ fast-paced system took time to implement, and step one in that course of was conditioning. The identical will maintain true at DeMatha.

In Jones’s first observe with the Stags in early Might, the workers requested gamers to run 10 laps across the court docket in three minutes. None of them made it. Extra operating adopted, and by the tip of the session coaches had to assist a number of cramping Stags to their vehicles.

Below Jones, who will educate bodily training and well being at DeMatha, guards are anticipated to run a mile in lower than 5 minutes 30 seconds and massive males are anticipated to complete below 6:30.

“You need to deliver vitality and energy each time on the market on this system,” mentioned Stags senior Mason So, who adopted Jones over from St. Stephen’s. “You need to get it going defensively, and when you do, every thing on offense will come collectively.”

DeMatha’s seek for a coach began with a January Zoom name by which the Rev. James Day, the college president, gave a 10-person committee a broad edict: Discover somebody who will “embrace the mission of DeMatha.”

It got here at a precarious time within the historical past of this proud basketball program. Mike Ok. Jones had been a stabilizing drive, an ever-calm and sometimes sensible coach who continued Wootten’s custom.

When Jones left in Might 2021, DeMatha moved swiftly to fill the emptiness with an interim coach. Pete Strickland, a former faculty coach and a Stags alum, was named to the role three days after Jones’s departure and coached the whole 2021-22 season.

At hoops power DeMatha, a coaching change stirs a painful debate about race

Some mother and father and alumni believed the college acted too quick and with out sufficient consideration to the racial make-up of the college and program. They aired their frustrations in the summertime earlier than the season, and the general public debate solid a darkish cloud over the Stags’ marketing campaign.

When DeMatha dropped to 6-4 simply after the New 12 months, whispers in regards to the bother in Hyattsville grew louder.

“Bought a little bit irritating typically,” rising senior guard Jaden Winston mentioned. “Everyone speaking, all people desirous to get their two cents in about DeMatha.”

The Stags obtained their season again on observe and completed 21-7, however as a search committee sifted via candidates in late winter, DeMatha was trying brief on expertise and uncertain of its future.

In March, individuals near the search say, three finalists have been submitted to the DeMatha administration: O’Connell Coach Joe Wootten, DeMatha assistant Daryl Greene and Mike G. Jones.

Joe, son of Morgan Wootten, had served as an assistant below his father across the identical time Mike Ok. Jones did. In 1999, Morgan Wootten made public his intentions for Joe to take over this system, however these plans weren’t agreed to. Joe left to take over WCAC foe Bishop O’Connell shortly after.

Regardless of that historical past, a number of individuals near this system mentioned they believed the job would go to Wootten this time. If not, they mentioned, Greene was absolutely the selection. Frequent information held that DeMatha, with such a robust alumni community, was unlikely to decide on an outsider.

Jones tried to deal with the interview course of as he would a basketball sport, specializing in the important thing factors to get throughout and hoping his technique would repay.

“I at all times rise up for a problem,” Jones mentioned.

On April 14, DeMatha employed Jones, and he shortly made his imaginative and prescient clear.

“We need to be often called a crew that’s disciplined, that performs tremendous laborious and that brings an thrilling model of basketball,” Jones mentioned.

The victory over St. Frances at DMV Reside might have supplied the crew, and the remainder of the D.C. space, a preview of what’s to return. It was a gritty win that includes stretches of each ugly and exquisite basketball. It was a Mike G. Jones-style win, and it started a run of success for the Stags: Within the second weekend of the occasion, DeMatha went Four-Zero, together with an attention-grabbing 22-point win over reigning convention champ Paul VI.

“Possibly shocked them, however it didn’t shock us,” Arnold mentioned.

There’s confidence inside the program now, 5 months earlier than the season, and it’s the inner lifetime of a crew that issues most. With DMV Reside accomplished, the Stags can return to an insular existence. They may proceed to be taught, to develop, to run — and run and run and run. Within the quiet of the observe health club, they may construct the inspiration for a brand new period of DeMatha basketball.

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