Jones learn­ing from the best in new coach­ing gig

The News-Times (Sunday) - - Sports - Jeff.ja­cobs @hearst­medi­act.com; @jef­f­ja­cobs123

HART­FORD — He watched as Jim Calhoun screamed for a time­out 41 sec­onds into his muchan­tic­i­pated 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. “Fam­ily.” 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 all­tour­na­ment 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 play- ing 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.”

Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Rashamel Jones is an as­sis­tant coach at the Univer­sity of St. Joseph un­der the di­rec­tion of Jim Calhoun, Jones’ coach while at UConn.

Michael Cummo / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

Rashamel Jones speaks dur­ing the cer­e­mony an­nounc­ing the 2018 in­ductees to the Fair­field County Sports Hall of Fame in­side UConn Stam­ford on June 20. Jones was a bas­ket­ball star at both Trin­ity Catholic and UConn and still holds the all-time boys Stam­ford record for ca­reer points with 2,301.

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