Jones is remembered for being a positive influence at Gibbons

On High Schools

High Schools

November 20, 2005|By MILTON KENT

Bob Flynn remembers the first time he met Brian O'Neil Jones. It was six years ago, the day that Flynn came back to take over the basketball coaching reins at Cardinal Gibbons, his alma mater. Jones, who had been an assistant under the legendary Ray Mullis, was there in the gym to greet him.

"He just had that big, giant, warm smile and he greeted me back to Gibbons," Flynn said last week. "It made me feel so good. We hit it off right away."

Flynn also remembers the last time he had contact with Jones. It was just before Jones was found shot to death on Nov. 12, 10 days short of his 34th birthday.

The two men had talked a few times during the week, and after their last conversation on Nov. 11, Flynn remembered a detail and e-mailed a quick note. Jones returned the e-mail with "TTYS" at the end.

"I e-mailed him back, `What the hell is TTYS?' " Flynn said. "He said, `Talk to you soon.' Now I talk to him every day. Every minute, I talk to him."

Sometimes, the most valuable skill a coach has to offer his team is the one that never shows up on a resume. It's the ability to make people around him -players, fellow coaches, just about anyone - feel good.

Talk to the people around the Cardinal Gibbons basketball team and they'll tell you that the innate ability to make the best out of the worst, to pull a positive out of a loss and to make you smile were the things that made Brian Jones such a remarkable coach.

"That's the great thing about him," said Joel Smith, a senior forward on the Gibbons team. "He was a great coach, but ... he was an even better person. He was so energetic and he always came to the gym with a smile on his face. It was certainly a pleasure to be around him."

The particulars of Jones' death are still sketchy, according to city police. His body was found just after 7 a.m. a week ago yesterday in a tree-lined area behind a nursing home in the 1300 block of Ellwood Avenue after an apparent robbery attempt. Police said Jones had been shot in the chest, but there is no motive and no suspects in the case.

While no one seems to know how Jones died, all who knew him know how he lived his life: to the fullest.

He and his wife of eight years, Kenya, raised three small children, Kameron, Kai and Kolby. Jones was, by all accounts, a devoted father, often bringing Kameron, who recently turned 5, to the Gibbons gym to hang out and play.

Jones, who went by the nickname of Neil, was a star at Old Mill, and while he was certainly capable of playing Division II or III basketball, Flynn said he was determined to make it at the big time.

So he walked on at Tennessee State, where he eventually earned a scholarship and led the Tigers to consecutive NCAA tournament berths in 1993 and 1994. Jones parlayed his degree into a successful professional career as a software engineer at Northrop-Grumman.

It was on the basketball court, though, where Jones shined. His players and coaches at Gibbons recall how much zest and skill he brought to games pitting the scout team and the starters.

"The man could play some basketball," said Alex Franz, a junior guard. "When Coach Flynn was coaching, he would have the five starters and the four kids that did not play that much with Coach Jones. And the kids who didn't play much would dominate because Coach Jones did everything. He was so good."

Jones would have started his 10th season at Gibbons this year, and when Flynn left to take the coaching job at McDaniel College, Jones was a natural candidate to take over, but the post went to Jeff Cheevers.

No one could have blamed Jones if he had made things tough for Cheevers, who came to Gibbons from Roanoke (Va.) College, or if he had left the school entirely. Instead, he made it his business to keep things running until Cheevers could get up to speed, and after the new coach arrived, Jones walked him through all the particulars.

"He made this transition very easy for me," said Cheevers, a Syracuse, N.Y., native. "He told me the things I needed to know and he introduced me to the people I needed to be introduced to. A lot of people might have done things differently than he did. He was just a very good person about it, a very classy person. He just did everything the right way."

Perhaps Jones' best piece of coaching came out of a painful loss two years ago, when the Crusaders, led by Leon Williams, a 6-foot-8 forward, won 27 games, their best season in 19 years.

Gibbons had a 17-point lead with two minutes to go in a late-season game against Mount St. Joseph when the lead started to collapse. Flynn said he kept asking Jones if they could hold on and Jones kept answering, "Yeah, we're all right."

That is, until the lead evaporated to one point in the final 20 seconds. Then Flynn said Jones told him, "Bob, we ain't all right." The Crusaders lost that game in double overtime, then won four straight to set up a matchup against Mount St. Joseph in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs.

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