Season Preview: CHD sits down with new Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones

To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with new Old Dominion coach Jeff Jones about winning the NIT as a player and a coach.


Your father Bob coached Kentucky Wesleyan to the 1973 D-2 title with an eight-points win over Tennessee State in the title game.  What made him such a good coach, and how much of an influence was he on your own decision to get into coaching? He was the person who I learned the game from and he really stressed the fundamentals with his team, who always played hard for him. My ideal team would have a blue-collar mentality and be competitive on the defensive end. When I told him I was thinking about going into coaching he said, “Are you crazy?!”, but he taught me to love and respect the game. I have other mentors like Terry Holland, Dave Odom and Jim Larranaga.

In the 1980 NIT title game as a player at Virginia your teammate Ralph Sampson became the first freshman to ever be named NIT MVP with 15 points and 15 rebounds in a three-point win over Minnesota: how was Sampson able to come in and dominate as a freshman, and what did it mean to you to win the title? Ralph was extremely talented but almost painfully shy. We saw glimpses of what a remarkable player he was becoming, but he was still trying to figure out how to utilize all the gifts he had. We had some difficult last-minute losses during the season. If we had played in today’s era we would have certainly made the NCAA tourney, but it was smaller back then. However, it might have been better for us to be in the NIT because we had a chance to gel.

In the 1981 NCAA tourney Jeff Lamp scored 25 points in a four-point win over LSU in the third place game only a few hours after the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.  How was your team able to stay focused after not being sure if you would even play that night? I do not know about everyone, but I could have cared less if we had played that game. Our goal was to win a national title, so it would not be an overstatement to say that we were bitterly disappointed. We were able to get it together and it was a very spirited game.

You graduated with 598 career assists (the most in school history): what is your secret for being a great point guard? I came in at a great time:  one year after Lamp and one year before Sampson! You want to have guys who can put the ball in the basket, and teammates like them could do it extremely well.

In the 1992 NIT title game as head coach at your alma mater you had a five-point overtime win over Notre Dame despite 39 points from Elmer Bennett.  How did winning the NIT as a coach compare to wining it as a player? It is certainly different, but there were some similarities. That team battled through some adversity and some difficult losses, so to finish on a positive note was great. I was thrilled for our two  seniors (Anthony Oliver and Bryant Stith): Bryant was such a great player and person.

In the 1995 NCAA tourney Junior Burrough had 28 points and 12 rebounds in a six-point win over Miami OH to give you a 9-0 record in your 9 previous OT games.  What is the key to winning OT games? I wish I knew! I think that streak got as high as 11 in a row by the end. That team in particular was very confident in overtime games: they saw OT as Our Time, even back when they were freshmen. It was a mentality more than anything else, but it is important to not beat yourself by taking care of the ball.

In the 2011 Patriot League tourney as head coach at American Stephen Lumpkins had 19 points and 11 rebounds in a two-point, two-overtime loss to Lafayette that broke your 14-game winning streak against the Leopards: where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? It is right up there. We were at home and clearly were the better team during the year, but our guys might have felt a little pressure because we wanted to have a shot to get to the title game and go to the NCAA tourney. We played well in stretches but could never sustain anything. I have to give credit to Lafayette for hitting a bunch of big shots.

In April you were named head coach at Old Dominion: why did you take the job? It was a great situation. I was not looking to move but there were a number of contributing factors, and in my heart and at this time in my career I felt that I wanted a new challenge. I really enjoyed my time at AU and could have remained there for a long time.

You only have one senior on your roster, do you think that your team is built to win now or are you are a year away from contending for a conference title? We will have to see. We do not have a lot of size or experience, which is obvious when you look at our roster, but we have a good core of young players, especially in the backcourt. We are working hard to be competitive and have a chance to win basketball games. I am not extremely familiar with the conference, but look forward to the challenge.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? I expect for us to be very competitive and reach our potential, whatever it is. I am excited to coach this group and try to rebound from last year, which was a tough 1 for everybody. We want to take a positive step forward for our program. It was only a couple years ago when they were at the top of the CAA.