- - Monday, December 10, 2018

HARRISONBURG, Va. | Mike Jones was in his mid-20s working at the Library of Congress when he learned of an opportunity to coach high school basketball through a friend. The position in the early 1990s was with the junior varsity boys program at Sidwell Friends, a private school in northwest Washington.

“That was probably the best year of coaching I have had until this past year,” Jones said. “I knew it was a passion at that time.”

And the past year? Jones led Radford of southwest Virginia to the Big South tournament title in March, and with it, an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win capped a season in which the surprising Highlanders won a school-record 23 games.

That was just a precursor. This season, Radford has already pulled off two major upsets on the road, one at Notre Dame on Nov. 14 and at then-No. 17 Texas on Nov. 30.

That victory came at the expense of current Texas and former Virginia Commonwealth coach Shaka Smart. Jones was a former assistant at VCU under Smart, who suggested to Jones that he not take the head coaching job at Florida A&M in 2011.



“We were down at the Final Four and I met with the (athletic director) at FAMU,” Jones, 53, said. “I went down and took a visit (to FAMU) and they offered me the job. I thought ‘Man, I made it. I finally got my opportunity.’ But I felt it might be a tough job. I played in the MEAC (with Howard) so we travel a lot; eight hours trips (on buses) and stuff like that.”

Smart suggested to Jones that other chances may come along. And they did. Jones was named the Radford coach later in 2011.

This season has had its share of challenges for Jones, who had to convince his players not to get overconfident after the win at Texas.

“He made it be known it had to be forgotten and focus on the team ahead,” Radford guard Carlik Jones said.

After the win at Texas, the coach also had to bench two starters for the next game Dec. 4 at James Madison.

“(They were) not adhering to the culture that we try to set as a standard,” Jones said. “These guys are 18 to 23 years old. If they did half of the stuff I did (at that age) I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. They will learn from this experience.”

Radford lost at JMU. After a second-straight loss on Dec. 8 at Ohio, the Highlanders fell to 6-3.

Jones grew up in Silver Spring and is the son of Jimmy Jones, a former guard in the ABA and the Washington Bullets. He grew up playing several sports, but eventually focused on basketball by the time he got to Paint Branch High in Burtonsville.

“My high school coach had a camp in Kensington,” Jones said. “That is where I learned to play.”

Jones attracted attention from several college programs, including George Mason, St. Bonaventure, Grambling and Howard.

“I actually committed to George Mason and Rick Barnes was the assistant coach,” Jones said of the current Tennessee coach. “He overinflated the science program at the time. When I found out, I went to Howard.”

Jones played four years at Howard and graduated in 1990 with a degree in zoology. After coaching at Sidwell Friends, he became an assistant at Howard in 1994 before stops at Furman, Richmond, Georgia and West Virginia before winding up at VCU from 2009-11.

Now in his eighth year as the Radford coach, Jones brought stability to the program after former coach Brad Greenberg resigned in the spring of 2011 over an NCAA investigation into improper recruiting practices.

“We have seen his teams continue to evolve into a top-notch mid-major program with a conference championship, NCAA appearance and win, and a number of signature victories, including Notre Dame and Texas this season,” Radford athletic director Robert Lineberg wrote in an email to The Times. “Mike runs a first-class program and we are seeing the byproduct of all his hard work in the success we are having. He has outstanding young men in the program who excel on the court and in the classroom.”

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