Tony Jones has been coaching the game of basketball since 1985. Since then he’s coached AAU, high school boys and girls, and junior college teams. For 31 years he coAched, nearly non-stop, until blood clots forced him to step away in 2016.
Earlier this year, Jones and his wife were at home watching TV when the story of Rob Mendez came on. Mendez coaches high school football despite living with no arms and no legs. At that point, Jones was stuck and didn’t know if he’d ever be able to coach again, but after seeing Mendez’s story, Jones and his wife knew he could get back on the court.
“If he can do it you can do it,” Jones recalled his wife telling him. “She knows that coaching makes me alive, coaching is what I love to do.”
Jones returned to the court in May, starting the Martinsville Rim Rockers Jr. NBA team of 14 year old players from around the local area. He and his team traveled to Washington D.C. for the Jr. NBA Global Championship Mid-Atlantic Regional this past weekend.
Jones won four state championships while coaching the girls basketball team at Carlisle, took the Patrick Henry Community College women’s team to the national championship game, won 10 Youth Basketball of America Virginia state championships with the Martinsville Red Wave AAU team, and also helped build Carlisle’s football program.
His final stop prior to his health issues was coaching the girls basketball team at G.W.-Danville.
In April of this year, Jones turned his attention back the youth game and the Jr. NBA.
“I looked at it, and it was the best 16 teams from the United States versus the best 16 teams from around the world at 14 years old,” Jones said. “That would be great for some local kids to be able to experience something like that.”
In April, Jones submitted an application to compete at the Jr. NBA Global Championship Mid-Atlantic Regional in Washington D.C. He then got a call and was interviewed.
“A month later they picked us, they selected us and we got invited to go so we scrambled to put a team together,” Jones said.
Jones, as well as his assistant coaches Quincy Jones and Chesley Graves, began finding local 13 and 14 year olds willing to join a brand new team. At that point, the AAU season had long been going on, so it was slim pickings early on. Then they started talking to the AAU coaches, and the Martinsville Rim Rockers were born. Jones formed the Rim Rockers with 12 of the best 13 and 14 year olds in the surrounding areas. Elijah Stokes, Christian Jones, Jamison Graves, Matthew Sidney, Calvin Thompson, John Louden, Dedric Rodgers, Kameron Roberts, Chance Biggs, Rayshawn Dickerson, Jalen Hagwood, and Zaylon Lea became the first Jr. NBA Martinsville team.
The team formed just a few weeks before they had to make the trip to D.C. That didn’t leave much time to form team chemistry and individual roles.
“I sat down with each player and did a one-on-one and found out about them,” Jones said. “I explained to each one of them that you are the best player on your team, no doubt about it… some of them are the best players in your area, but this team has to gel, has to have continuity.
“I really drove that home and what the outcome could be, and each one of them understood.”
The team needed fundraising to get to D.C and stay in hotels, and they got it in no time. Jones and the team took a van to D.C., which is when they really became a team.
“It was a good bonding experience. The main topic of discussion was Playstation, but they use that to learn plays, they use that to learn moves, but they talked about basketball the whole way up there,” he said. “They bonded. They formed a brotherhood this weekend that I think will last a lifetime.”
The team showed up on Friday and played two games almost right away and against teams that have been together much longer than the Rim Rockers.
“They saw at this tournament what exactly real basketball is played like,” Jones said. “It was NBA style. They had a 30-second shot clock… NBA rules, and the set up was just like an NBA game. It was an NBA atmosphere.”
Martinsville ran into some really good teams early, but ended up picking up a couple of wins, which created the highlight of the weekend for Jones.
“I loved watching them react to winning the game,” he said. “My favorite part of the tournament was watching the reactions of the kids and their parents, just the amazement of the experience.
“As much as the kids learned and enjoyed this experience, I got more enjoyment out of it just seeing it, and I want other children to experience this.”
Jones said that now that the team has competed once, they “have a leg up” in getting at least one team in the regional tournament each year, and he hopes to take advantage of that opportunity by trying to grow to more than just one team.
“My goal now that we’ve taken this team is to take as many kids as I can to experience this on a yearly basis. We’re going to form a group and we’re planning on next year taking a boys team and a girls team,” he said.
But the summer isn’t over for Jones or this current group of Rim Rockers. They will compete in the BBrawl Nationals at Virginia Tech on July 12-14. They were also invited to the USA Basketball National Championships in Atlanta later this summer, and are in the process of deciding if they’d like to compete there was well.
“We’re going to keep going. We have some more things for this summer.”
Jones has seen a lot of success on the basketball court over his many years on the sidelines, but this past weekend was something special.
“Knowing that we did something to maybe improve the quality of a kid’s life and exposing them, that’s the enjoyment to me,” he said. “Our goal was to go represent ourselves, our families and our community, and we did that well.”