- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 17, 2012

OMAHA, Neb. — Robert Jones was tired. Going on four hours of sleep, the Norfolk State assistant coach stood in the middle of the cramped locker room at CenturyLink Center on Friday and handed out his nine-page recipe to beat Missouri.

The game plan for Norfolk State’s first-ever NCAA tournament game was one page longer than normal. Jones, the fifth-year assistant who drew the scouting responsibilities, added extra keys after watching tape of five Missouri games the night before.

Then Jones, known among players as an inspirational speaker, reminded the 15th-seeded group of their rag-tag origins.

“We’ve got to take advantage of this moment,” Jones recalled saying, “because a lot of us shouldn’t be here.”

Then, of course, Norfolk State left the cramped locker room chanting “Play to win,” stunned No. 2 seed Missouri 86-84 and became only the fifth No. 15 seed to win in the tournament’s history.

Senior forward Marcos Tamares played for Jones at St. Mary’s High in Manhasset, N.Y.

“When it’s a big game, he gives you a good speech,” Tamares said. “He gives you the extra oomph.”

On Saturday, Jones detailed how he, head coach Anthony Evans and fellow assistants Larry Vickers and Wilson Washington conjured up the plan that took out Missouri. Ten hours of sleep reenergized Jones, who waded through 57 text messages and 35 Twitter mentions on his BlackBerry after the game. An email even arrived from a girl he dated in junior high.

The pregame message was still fresh in his mind, even as preparations loomed for Sunday’s game against Florida.

“A lot of people overlooked them,” Jones said. “They shouldn’t technically be there. I was a Division III player. I was a high school coach. Maybe I shouldn’t be there.”

Eight of the 15 players on the roster transferred to Norfolk State from other schools. To senior guard Chris McEachin, who left Radford to be closer to home, the patchwork roster is the team’s identity.

Others, like standout senior center Kyle O'Quinn, were lightly recruited. Norfolk State was O'Quinn’s only Division I scholarship offer.

The unlikely narrative extends to the coaches. Years ago, Evans cleaned bathrooms at a convenience store, the 84 Quick Stop, to make ends meet while an unpaid assistant at Orange County Community College in Newburgh, N.Y.

“He was selling beef jerky,” Jones said.

And, at 57 years old, Washington, a two-year NBA veteran, is in his first season as a college assistant.

Story Continues →