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Interview with Joe Jones

May 19, 2003 Columns No Comments

Columbia’s basketball Jones

by Adam Shandler

Most aspiring college coaches would avoid a program like Columbia’s much like they would a patch of poison sumac. The Lions had two wins in the 2002-03 campaign and didn’t win a game in the Ivy League. The Harlem-based program gets a much-needed facelift by replacing Armond Hill with Joe Jones — a seasoned assistant coach who spent nine seasons with Jay Wright’s Hofstra and Villanova teams.

How is Jones being received by the Ivy community? Let’s just say people will be watching. In fact, Ivybasketball.com is offering a poll that asks, “What

Photo courtesy Villanova University
Joseph Jones

movie title will describe the Joe Jones era at Columbia?” with choices ranging from Mission: Impossible to My (Light) Blue Heaven. Clearly, the fans care.

I recently spoke with Joe about his new job, recruiting in the Ivy League, and what could be a Harlem Renaissance at Columbia.

Adam Shandler: This isn’t one of the winningest programs in the Ivy, much less college basketball. Why take this job?

Joe Jones: I think that Columbia can be a real good program. I met with the administration and just felt comfortable. We talked about the direction of this program and where we want to take it and I felt that there would be a major commitment to Columbia basketball. Everything about the job just felt right.

Also, I had a chance to walk around campus. This is a great New York City school with a really nice campus. I saw students sitting on the steps of these beautiful buildings and just fell in love with the atmosphere.

AS: Bobby Hurley, Jr. and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were two marquis names that interviewed for this position. Why do you think the school went with you and not these guys?

JJ: A lot of people have been asking me that, but I really can’t say. I can’t speak in terms of what made me a better candidate because I wasn’t on the committee.

AS: It’s a tough sell recruiting in the Ivy League. Not only are you looking for good players, but you also need kids who can handle the academic pressure of a school like Columbia. How do you handle such a challenge?

JJ: First we have to designate players that are on the mid-major level and try to recruit them. If you want to be good, you can’t be afraid to recruit players at the mid-major talent level and compete with those kinds of programs. We have a challenge of rebuilding here, so we’re going to try and bring in the best players possible. If that means going out and trying to recruit a Big East-type player, we’ll go and do that. Then, of course, the player has to have a good academic record, good character and value the importance of family.

AS: Have you been able to recruit any of your own players yet?

JJ: We just landed Gerard Barrett (6-6, 240, F) from Virginia. He’ll give us good size inside and help us out a great deal in defense and rebounding. Gerard had Stony Brook, Winthrop and Vermont on his list.

AS: Your brother, James, is the head coach at Yale. Not to manufacture a lot of hype, but this isn’t going to be just another, game is it?

JJ: To be honest, we’ll approach [Yale-Columbia] as any other game. Once the ball goes up, we’ll both be doing what we need to do to win…just like we would with any other team.

I’m sure the rivalry will be fun for our families, and when we’re old and gray we’ll reflect on those games, but again, once that ball goes up, we both have a basketball game to coach. Whatever the outcome, I’ll be happy for him and he’ll be happy for me.

AS: How much of an impact did (Villanova head coach) Jay Wright have on your development as a coach?

JJ: He had everything to do with my development and maturation as a coach. Attitude is the best thing I learned from Jay. The tough times will come and you can’t get upset or blame anyone, you just need to find the answers. The first few years at Hofstra we were not very good, but we went out and got some really good players, built for the future and made our first NIT appearance in 1999. During the tough times, Jay knew how to find the answers.

I admired how he handled himself and how he was with his own family.

AS: So if Columbia makes the tourney under your watch, can we officially call it the “Harlem Renaissance?”

JJ: (Laughs) You can call it whatever you want. Right now, we just want to get better as a team everyday and become closer as a family.


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