Keith Gill and Jeff Jones go way back, further than Jones could have known, back to the days when Gill was a Duke student and Jones was Virginia’s head basketball coach.
“Watching those teams play, the Bryant Stith teams, the Jason Williford, Junior Burrough teams, all those great players coming through Cameron, I got a chance to (see) how well-prepared, and how tough, and how hard-nosed those teams were,” Gill said.
Gill and Jones crossed paths again in 2007 at American University, where Jones was the Eagles’ established coach, Gill the school’s new athletic director. Their connection was virtually instant and remains intact despite their respective departures.
The University of Richmond appointed Gill as athletic director in November, and last week Old Dominion hired Jones as its coach. In 13 years at American, he guided the Eagles to nine winning seasons and the only two NCAA tournament bids in program history.
“I think Jeff is a great coach,” Gill said Monday from the Final Four in Atlanta. “His teams are so well-prepared, the opponents so well-scouted. I’ve just always been so impressed with him in terms of how he manages a game and how he gets his team prepared. I think ODU really did hit a home run. I think he’s a great leader, a great teacher of young men.
“In terms of having a program that will have values about the importance of the classroom, values about the importance of being good citizens and growing as young men, and then competitive success, I think Jeff is going to do a wonderful job, and the folks around ODU will be really pleased with the results.”
Jones’ results at American: four Patriot League regular-season titles and a 212-182. His Virginia teams, from 1990-98, were 146-104 and earned five NCAA bids in his eight seasons.
When Gill arrived at American, Jones had taken the Eagles to four Patriot League tournament title games. Each time, AU had lost.
When the Eagles finally broke through in 2008, defeating Colgate at American’s Bender Arena, Jones couldn’t mask his happiness, and relief.
“I think the moment that really sticks out is when we won the first Patriot League championship at American,” Gill said. “Just the emotion Jeff showed. When you think about Jeff Jones, you really think about stoic, kind of Rock of Gibraltar. It was really a touching moment to me, and I feel so lucky to have been a part of it.
“Seeing that emotion, seeing him let it go and crying on the bench. ‘Yeah, we finally got there.’ I feel honored I was able to share that with him. When you’re in those one-bid leagues, it’s hard when everything comes down to winning one game. It’s so different when you have a chance to get an at-large bid. … It’s a different kind of pressure.”
For example, in fiscal 2011-12, AU reported $1,734,168 in men’s basketball expenses to the U.S. Department of Education. Oklahoma spent approximately four times as much: $6,813,149.
Old Dominion’s basketball budget, $2,809,187, was 62 percent higher than American’s last year.
Equally tangible, Gill said, were facilities. American’s basketball teams often were displaced from Bender Arena due to scheduling conflicts, forcing them to practice at local high schools.
“All for good reason,” Gill said. “That’s part of the culture there. That’s part of the value there. But it does put pressure on your basketball staff. … The facilities at ODU will allow him to be a better coach.”
Gill described Jones as “a great basketball mind” whose offense and out-of-bounds plays create space and open shots. Moreover, he considers Jones a friend.
“I’m really close to Jeff,” Gill said. “He’s a great friend. Obviously great to work with, but I would consider him a friend, much more so than a colleague. Our relationship, I thought, was great from the start. …
“I always had great respect for him, and working with him only caused that respect to grow.”
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns, including two on ODU’s hiring of Jones.