Coaching the Highlander Spirit: Mike Jones
The basketball court can be a powerful place for critical life lessons, something that is not lost on Radford University Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Jones.
Coach Jones aspires for so much more than strong statistics and a season full of wins, although they have had both this season. He wants his basketball players to “understand what it means to be a winner – not just in basketball but in life.”
“It is learning life lessons through sports,” Jones said.
While many fans have packed the bleachers in the Dedmon Center to watch Coach Jones and his team, very few have been privy to the hard work that happens behind the scenes – work that extends past practice into the fundamental character-building moments.
The lessons and wisdom that Jones instills in his basketball players are, in many ways, lessons for all.
“Right now, if you’re late, you get suspended or run. In the real world, you get fired,” Jones said about the emphasis he places on accountability and punctuality.
To him, it really is that simple. If he allows one player to behave in a way that adversely impacts the team, he feels he is doing a disservice to the team in the immediacy and a disservice to the individual player in the long run.
“If it’s basketball or if it’s an administrative team, it’s the same. You have to get people to buy into being on one page for one goal,” said Jones.
He is emphatic that everyone has a part to play in fostering a culture in alignment with the team’s goals and vision, and also that his players demonstrate commitment to team over their own self-interests.
“We don’t need any of you – we need the team,” is a statement shared by Jones. While on the surface is may sound harsh, but in reality, it is spoken from a place of care and concern. He is seeking to foster a sense of accountability and empathy within his players so they understand their role and impact. It has to be team above self – both on the court and in the broader ‘game of life.’
“It’s bad – but it ain’t that bad.”
That is a saying Coach Jones is known to share with his team after a crushing loss on the court. He sees athletics as an opportunity to impart the will to keep pushing, trying, and aspiring for more, while embracing an opportunity to foster a spirit of resilience.
“Failure is a part of life and dealing with a loss in a basketball game pales in comparison to the type of adversity and loss you can have in life,” Jones said. “It is not what happens to you, it is how you respond to what happens to you. If we can teach them that now, through basketball, it can help them as they continue in life.”
Jones is quick to attribute the special qualities of Radford University to the “great collection of people.” To him, it is the relationships and shared culture of appreciation, care and support that make the campus and broader community a special place to be.
When he talks about his players, you can tell that he sees real people worth celebrating for their unique experiences, personalities and strengths.
He chuckles when describing a player as “a laid-back mellow type of fellow” or express pride as he talks about another who has developed into a “true leader.” He can joke about a player who has a “unique sense of fashion” or marvel at one player’s ability to overcome academic challenges.
Jones has deep appreciation for and belief in his players. He is their champion in basketball and in life.
Jones knows that his players can be equipped for future success with a college degree from Radford University.
“When I became a coach, I vowed that the most important part of my job was making sure my players graduated,” Jones said.
Coach Jones indicated that one of the best parts of his role as coach is “seeing them grow as people” from the time they arrive on campus to the moment their degrees are conferred and the next chapter of life begins.
Coach Jones intentionally uses the time with his team to focus on building a legacy of Highlanders who are responsive, resilient and real.
“Responsive. Resilient. Real.” is an online story series published by Radford University that began in spring 2019. The ongoing series celebrates the Highlander spirit of students, faculty, staff and alumni by sharing their unique stories and their strong sense of Highlander pride. Through being responsive, resilient and real, Highlanders are making a positive impact and leaving a lasting legacy on our campus and in communities around the world.