- The Washington Times - Friday, November 29, 2002

Michael Jones doesn't berate his players for missed layups, but he does push his varsity basketball team to improve.
The new head basketball coach for DeMatha Catholic High School, an all-male private school in Hyattsville, is usually the first one in the gymnasium. A practice session last week was no exception.
"The varsity team was the last undefeated team when I played here my senior year [in 1991]," says Mr. Jones, 29, while 15 players run full-court sprints on the wooden floor. "I want to take our young team and do what Coach [Morgan Wootten] did for us."
Mr. Jones has been with DeMatha for five years, serving as director of admissions and recently assistant coach to Mr. Wootten, the 46-year veteran at DeMatha who coached Mr. Jones' team and retired earlier this year.
His move back to an academic setting in 1997 came after a six-year sojourn abroad. After graduating from Old Dominion University, Mr. Jones was picked up for the preseason with the Indiana Pacers, but didn't make the cut.
Hoping to gain experience, Mr. Jones played professionally overseas in the European League and leagues in the Dominican Republic and Hong Kong in every position except center.
"Basketball has been so much a part of my life that I knew I would end up back here," says Mr. Jones, an Upper Marlboro resident.
The opportunity came earlier than he expected, but Mr. Jones says he plans to make his career at DeMatha. "Coaching is what I love to do, and so much of that has been influenced by Coach Wootten that I want to try and be half as good as he was."
"I always thought Mike would be a great coach because he's got the credentials as a professional player, which a lot of players respect, and his age allows him to better relate where these boys are coming from," said Mr. Wootten.
Mr. Jones' first challenge as head coach will be unifying a young team that includes seven sophomores, two of whom are starters. "That's rare in any high school, but in our case it makes it interesting," he says.
The players begin half-court layups, and each one slaps Mr. Jones for a high-five before getting back in line.
Mr. Jones says he doesn't plan to make dramatic changes in the game plans or his coaching style from when was an assistant coach. He and his two assistant coaches, Neil Murphy and Joe Limarsi, use the same practice books and plays that Mr. Wootten implemented years earlier.
"It's the same car with a different driver in it," Mr. Jones says. He then shouts, "Great hustle, but let's be intelligent with our plays," to one player who has fouled a teammate for a rebound.
During the practice two weeks before the Stags' first game against Cardinal Gibbons High School on Dec. 3, Mr. Jones says he is reviewing primarily defense options, like various full-court presses, with the team.
One thing Mr. Jones emphasizes is flexibility with plays. "You have to be ready on defense to go man to man or have a two-three zone at any time," he says. "That's one thing I learned from Coach Wootten is to be flexible with the coaching, have fun with it, but be prepared for anything."
Midway through practice, he divides the team into two groups of players. The guards go with him and forwards with the assistant coaches. Then, Mr. Jones is out on the court, playing defense during shooting and passing drills while giving the occasional advisement to his smaller players.
"Don't force it," he tells one guard who is driving the ball toward the center for a quick jump shot. "Keep your eyes up from the ball and don't let the defender push you to either side."
Mr. Jones' voice raises to a midshout for players at the other end of the court, but he is relaxed and confident as he directs players to certain spots.
"That's one thing I've had to watch is my enthusiasm," he says with a grin. "You have to tone it down and give some players a more personal approach where you put your arm around them and help them out."
Playing with the team at practice is the best part of the job, Mr. Jones says. "Most of your players are visual learners and it helps them to have me out there showing," he says before demonstrating a defensive pick to a player.
At the end of practice, Mr. Jones brings the team into a huddle and highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the practice. He reiterates that the team should be focused on an upcoming scrimmage with Oxon Hill High School instead of the impending first game.
"In our conference, everybody is a good team, so we have to stay focused on the present game and not worry about a game down the road," he says to the huddled group. "Let's go out there and see how we play in the scrimmage without getting any injuries."
Mr. Jones says he wasn't nervous about taking over the position for which Mr. Wootten was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2000 or the pressure of coaching a nationally recognized athletic team. But he speculates he is more excited than most of the players about the first game.
"It's the first time where I'll be the decision maker instead of the suggestion maker, but I've been here long enough that these guys know where I stand and what I'll expect from them this season."


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