Beyond Madness

       Bobby Jones sits behind his desk in the Athletics Office, Building 6, of Charlotte (N.C.) Christian School, where his titles-assistant athletic director, basketball camp director, co-head coach of varsity boys basketball-indicate his level of commitment. A map of the world fills the wall to the right. Plaques of his two state championship teams meet his straight-ahead glance. He has found out what pleases the Lord?         "I feel like I have," he says.

       Jones, 49, has built a legacy in his hometown. He was a schoolboy legend at South Mecklenburg High. Now he works in the southeastern part of the city, at a school with an enrollment of about 1,000, concentrating on an Upper School (grades 9 through 12) that includes about 300 students. Jones has kept his focus right there for the past 12 years.

       One day he heard that Reggie White himself was in town, so he went to hear him speak at a church. The National Football League great recognized Jones in the audience and stated that he and Julius Erving were his two favorite players on the Philadelphia 76ers. White explained that he grew up as a Sixers fan, and that he appreciated Jones for his Christ-like example.

        "That meant a lot to me," Jones says. "You never know who else you might have influenced during that time."

       Jones is within an eyelash of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He nearly went in last year as the Honors Committee weighed his many accomplishments - eight-time NBA All-Defense first team, four-time NBA All Star, member of the 1983 world champion 76ers, member of the1972 Olympic team, All American at North Carolina. He might go in this year as a high school assistant coach. "So be it," he says with typical humility.

       As a 6-foot-9 string bean forward who still checks in at his playing weight of 210 pounds, Jones made 55 percent of his shots from the field and averaged 11.5 points per game in an NBA career that lasted from 1976 to 1986. However, the words on his championship ring - Defense and Persevere -may provide the best description of how he played.

       His passion since 1988 has been to do all that he can to strengthen a small, private school in his hometown. His goals have been to upgrade Charlotte Christian's facilities as well as its basketball program, and he really does prefer to be an assistant coach. He began that way under Red Beck; Shonn Brown will be his boss next season.

       Brown 26, is a bit blown away. Becoming co-head coach this season was challenging enough. He wound up being groomed by an NBA legend. "It's overwhelming," says the younger man. "Some of it you just can't explain."

       Pick a Christian virtue and it probably applies to Jones. He is as mature as they come. "I think he's a man of integrity," says Langston Wertz, the lead high school writer for The Charlotte Observer. Wertz has covered Jones for the last 10 years. Both he and Bobby's older brother, Kirby, say that they admire Bobby. "His faith and belief system are so strong, nothing can crack him," Kirby says.

       Meredith Jones, a freshman at Charlotte Christian, calls her father "my role model." It was that way, too, for my older brothers Eric and Matt. Both played for their father and now are attending college. Above all else, Jones is an example to his wife, Tess, and these three children.

        "I don't consider myself a preacher," he says. "I'll do some speaking, but I feel that my job is to avoid evil, to try to do the right thing."

       It was right for him to help change the spiritual climate at the school, so he did. Social Christianity has been replaced by the real thing. Students have become discerning. And Jones has been delighted by it all.

       In a recent class, one of his players was asked about dating. The topic got around to a particular girl, and the player made the statement that "I don't date her because she just has a seed of bitterness in her." That makes him smile.

       In the Charlotte Christian basketball program, prayer is a way of life. Jones says that players used to be reluctant, but now he has plenty of volunteers. Some give in to peer pressure and fail to follow his advice, but many of these same young men contact him years later to say he was right.

        "You plant that seed and it's in there," Jones says. "The Lord's Word will not leave these guys. That's why we have devotions. That's why we have these guys share a Scripture, and then we'll expound on it. I believe that's permanent."

       But players don't come for the Scriptures alone. They come to learn how to play basketball on the next level. They come from all over the region, basically recruiting themselves. "Bobby is a magnet," Wertz says.

       Among the many players Jones has helped are: Todd Fuller, a former North Carolina State center who now plays for the Miami Heat; J Locklier, the starting center for Washington State; Nick Richardson, a starting forward for VMI; his son, Matt, a walk-on guard who has been starting as a freshman for Appalachian State; and Nick Huge, another guard for Appalachian State.

       His current team, which was hoping to compete in late February for a state championship, may have as many as five future NCAA Division 1 players. Guard Jason Morten already has committed to Richmond. "We've got about six guys who could score 20 points on any given night," Jones says. A 14-4 start had Knights fans thinking that this team might be as good as the previous state title teams of 1991-1992 and 1996-1997.

 

       Brown says that Jones gives him "more, if I want more," as a co-head coach. When it comes to coaching defense, though, Brown calls Jones, "The Man!" This becomes apparent at a Thursday practice in December as Jones runs eight of the Knights through a weak-side defense drill. The team shuts down Victory Christian the following night, 68-50.

       Jones used to perform like a Boy Scout in the NBA, doing noble things like taking charge, tipping a pass, blocking a shot and diving for a loose ball. When a player off his bench, a senior guard named Ben Windham, goes through a similar routine against Victory Christian, Jones makes sure to mention it after the game. "This guy was in three places at one time on the court," Jones tells his team. "He was everywhere, doing everything." The players break out in applause.

       Timon Farley, a flashy guard with an ESPN-cultivated style, appreciates how Bobby and Tess have opened up their home to him. "People want to play for him," Farley says. "He's had state championships. He wins. He's a great guy. There's never anything bad said about him." Or, as Morten says, "It's an honor to play for somebody who has that kind of background and character."

       Jones can be very quiet. "I'm talking more now than I have in the whole last week," he says in the middle of a one-hour interview. Brown calls him "kind of reclusive," but the tall, distinguished gentleman does what he has to do, in a friendly sort of way.

        "I mean, he's a great coach," Brown says. "He leads by example. Sometimes he doesn't say a whole lot. He'll just get right to the point."

       Jones wants to pass the baton. He is quite ready to watch Matt and the rest of his former players further their college careers. He already has visited nine foreign lands to put on basketball camps. His last such missions trip was in 1998, to the Philippines, and he may travel some more.

       Sometimes he will sit in his office, stare at the world map and pray. He knows people all over the globe, from Russia to Brazil, Kenya to Guam, Portugal to Spain, Belgium to Korea. He prays for them out of a sense of compassion. "I'm there for two weeks," he says. "They're there for life."

       Jones leaves practice early with his father, Bob, to drive two hours up to Boone, N.C., to watch Matt make his first start for Appalachian State. Matt scores six points and plays like a true Jones on defense. "He's a disrupter," his father says with a smile. Closer to midnight, Jones flips on the television to find Southern California playing Pepperdine. The sight of both coaches, whom he played against in the NBA, can be thought of as temptation. His mind immediately shifts to Romans 12:2, which serves to remind him about God's perfect will for his life.

 

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