Thursday, October 1, 2009

Maysville Native Michael Jones is Enjoying Life at Brevard

Maysville native Michael Jones is entering his 11th year as head coach at Brevard College, an NCAA Division II school in western North Carolina. Jones enjoyed stops at Eastern Kentucky University and Lee's Junior College (Hazard Community College) before finding his way to Brevard.

I chatted to Coach Jones this week about his life since leaving Maysville, his job and basketball. Here is my interview with Michael Jones, head coach of Brevard College:

Mike, tell me a little about your background in the state of Kentucky

I grew up in Maysville KY. Graduated from Maysville Saint Patrick in ’85. Upon graduating, I went to the University of Louisville for 2 years before transferring to Eastern Kentucky University. I received my Bachelor and Master’s degrees from EKU. I began working with the basketball team at EKU in 1992. After 4 years with EKU, I went to work in Jackson KY at Hazard Community College-Lees College Campus and stayed there for 3 years.

You were a graduate assistant at Eastern Kentucky for several years. Had you made the decision to pursue a career in coaching before your time at Eastern or did your time with the Colonels help lead you into the coaching profession?

I was one semester from graduating with a business degree from Eastern Kentucky, when I needed to fill an elective class; I took a Theories of Coaching Basketball class. The class was taught by the head basketball coach at the time Mike Pollio. After class one day, I went to his office and asked about helping out with the team. Coach Pollio directed me to one of his assistant coaches, Mike Calhoun, about working camp. As a senior in high school, I had sent some letters out about being interested in playing at EKU. Coach Calhoun claimed to have remembered me and graciously allowed me to get on the camp staff that summer. As I started to develop a rapport with Coach Calhoun, Coach Pollio made the announcement that he was leaving coaching to join the Athletic Department at the University of Louisville. Coach Calhoun was named the Head Coach at EKU a short time later. I continued to talk and ask advice from Coach Calhoun, at which time I made the decision to stay in school for another year, change my major and pick up a minor as I now found what I wanted to do…coach. There is no question that I owe my start in college coaching and my career to Mike Calhoun.

You’ve been at Brevard College since 1999. Tell the readers a little about your program and the school.

Brevard is a small Liberal Arts college in the western part of North Carolina. We are 25 miles southwest of Asheville. It is easily one of the most beautiful parts of the country. We have over 100 waterfalls in our county and Brevard has one of the entrances to Pisgah National Forest about 3 miles from campus.

Brevard College was a very well known and successful Junior College for many years. In the late 90’s the administration decided to make the change to 4-year degrees. I was hired in 1999 as the first 4-year basketball coach to lead the program through the transition from 2-year competition to 4-year. We began competing in the NAIA and made the transition to NCAA DII status in 2006.

I have been very fortunate here at Brevard to have been a part of some very special and successful teams. We have been to two National Tournaments and have two Conference Titles.

We have had some great players here. There have been 8 players that have had the opportunity to play for money after graduating; two played in the NBDL. We have had a hand full from Kentucky and three finished their careers here: Mario Hall-Owensboro, Travis Williams-Bowling Green, and David Evans-Franklin County. Evans was the Conference Player of the Year and an All-American

When reading your online bio, this statement jumped out at me: “Most impressive for the Men’s Basketball team is the 98% graduation rate since Coach Jones took over the reins.” Is that accurate? That is a very impressive number. Tell me a little about your devotion to academics and some of the methods you use to keep these kids focused on their academic success.

The 98% graduation rate is correct. In my 10 years, we have only had one player that finished his eligibility with us not receive his degree. When he left he was 3 credit hours short. However, he found a very good job and is doing well in life. We take a lot of pride in our academics. We make it clear to prospective student athletes and their families that we want them to graduate and will provide them with the necessary resources to do that. We have very strict rules regarding class attendance and Brevard College has a great Academic Enrichment Center, where the players with under 2.5 GPAs go for study hall and tutoring help. I firmly believe that success breeds success, both on the court and in the classroom. Our players GPAs have become an area that they are very competitive amongst each other and with other teams. We have not had the highest team GPA on campus yet, but we have been close.

I am assuming that last season was kind of a transition season for your program as you made the jump to NCAA Division II and also joined the South Atlantic Conference. Discuss that transition and some of the obstacles you have faced during this change.

Our transition actually began in 2006. We had to go through two years of provisional membership before being declared a full NCAA member last year. Our administration has done a fantastic job with getting us to full membership in record breaking time. It is normally a 4-year process. The jump to the NCAA has not come without its growing pains. There are completely different rules, paperwork, compliance procedures, etc. However, it has been completely worth it in every way. The NCAA and the SAC have been such a great experience for us. The NAIA is not as strong in the southeast. It is nice to go into a recruit's house and not have to explain what the NAIA is. People know NCAA DII and they know the SAC. The South Atlantic Conference has a long history of being a very strong basketball conference with teams that have performed very well on the national level. Every team we play in the conference is good.

What impact has the change to DII had on your scholarship numbers? What are some of the positive gains you have enjoyed as a result of moving to a higher level of basketball?

Both men's and women's basketball are the only sports at Brevard College that are not at the South Atlantic Conference's scholarship limits. So we are somewhat behind the other SAC teams. But we have gotten more scholarships every year and are closing the gap. We have also had the opportunity to play at the University of Alaska-Anchorage as well as having an arrangement with the Charlotte Bobcats where we play the first game of a double-header in the Bobcat's Arena. This season we will play prior to their game with the Boston Celtics.

Coach, tell me about your 2009-10 team. What are you expecting out of your team and what will your goals be in your second season of SAC play?

When we found out we were transitioning to the NCAA and were going to have go through our provisional membership time when we were not going to have our games count towards any type of post season, we made the decision to build for this year. We brought in a lot of freshman four years ago, knowing that we would take our lumps early, but that since we would be provisional, we felt that was the time to do it. So this season we have seven seniors. We have great leadership. Players that have been through the hard times early and have grown. We had more SAC wins last year than any of the team sports at Brevard. With the addition of some key transfers, we feel that this may be one of our most talented and deep teams we have had. One of our key seniors is Jonathan Whitson. John is already Brevard College's leading scorer and rebounder. John was also named to the All-SAC first team and All-Region team last year. Our main team goal this year, is to be even more competitive this year in the SAC in the hopes to host an opening round game in the conference tournament.

Let me throw you a bit of a curveball. How often do you get back home to visit? Do you still follow any basketball in Kentucky?

I do not get back to Kentucky nearly as much as I would like. My wife and I try to make at least one trip usually around the spring Keeneland meet. I still have many friends in Kentucky both in coaching and out. So I definitely keep tabs on high school basketball in Kentucky. We continue to recruit players from Kentucky so I do get to get back to see some games from time to time.

Let me also say this. I feel very fortunate to have found myself in what must be considered the two best basketball states in the nation. Basketball is obviously a big thing in North Carolina. Everyone is aware of the North Carolina-Duke rivalry and the emotions that stir. However, I am still constantly trying to explain what basketball is in the state of Kentucky. People still have a hard time understanding the passion that people have for the University of Kentucky basketball team, or what the Kentucky State Basketball Tournament is like, or the gyms and sellout crowds for a regular season game in eastern Kentucky. There is nothing that compares to those things.

Wildcats or Cardinals?

Tough question. Obviously I attended the University of Louisville out of high school, which by the way, was in 1986. Can you say, Milt Wagner, Billy Thompson, Herb Crook, Jeff Hall and Pervis Ellison. However, I do enjoy watching UK and the quality of players they have had. Not to mention that I am a big Darius Miller fan, being from Maysville. So I will plead the fifth.

Any thoughts on new Kentucky head coach John Calipari?

I think that Coach Calipari is one of the best recruiters in college basketball. The talent pool that he will attract to UK will be scary. I will be interested to see the very passionate UK faithful's reaction to having so many players leave early for the NBA year after year. But they will definitely be loaded with some of the best young players every season.

Coach Jones, it has been great talking to you and I wish you the best of luck in the upcoming season. I’ll touch base with your as we get into the swing of basketball season and see how things are going for Brevard.

Thanks so much for the opportunity. I really enjoyed it!

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