Jones adjusted to playing for Knight

Jones adjusted to playing for Knight

Catching up with … Lyndon Jones

By Lynn Houser, Herald-Times Sports Writer

February 27, 2007

Indiana’s Lyndon Jones brings the ball upcourt during his senior season against Minnesota on March 7, 1991. H-T file photo
From the Feb. 27, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

One of the greatest recruiting coups of Bob Knight’s 29 years at IU came in 1987, when he landed the two best players off three-time state champion Marion, Jay Edwards and Lyndon Jones.

They lived up to their hype, too. Edwards was good enough to go pro after two years and Jones enjoyed a fruitful four-year career that included two Big Ten championships.

We caught up with Jones last week. He is now a shift coordinator for Cummings Diesel in Columbus.

The honor he savors the most is the three state championships, along with being named co-Mr. Basketball with Edwards in 1987.

“When we were playing high school basketball, there were no classes then,” Jones pointed out. “I feel that was the hardest time to win a state championship. To win it three times and go down in history with the Franklin Wonder Five (Indiana’s only other three-time champs) is something I talk to my kids about.”

Jones and his wife, Sophia, have two daughters, Lark (6) and Lyric (5). In addition to his duties for Cummings, he also co-owns a truck company with his father, Alfonzo.

Jones said it was a bit of shock going from the laid-back, high school ways of Bill Green to the totalitarian ways of Knight.

“It was definitely a change of styles,” Jones said. “Coach Green was more relaxed, more ‘negotiable.’ Coach Knight was more direct. You were only going to do it his way. When you are 18 years old, it’s a big shock, a big adjustment. But if I had to do it all over, I would do it again.

“Everything I’ve learned, how to take detailed notes, how to get ready for an opponent, how to make decisions on the spot, I learned from Coach Knight.”

About those split decisions …

There was one where Jones almost waited too long before making. It was the 1989 game against Michigan at Assembly Hall. When they met on a Sunday afternoon in February, Michigan already was in the midst of a late-season drive that would ultimately result in an NCAA title.

Led by Glen Rice, Rumeal Robinson, Terry Mills and Loy Vaught, the Wolverines were closing in on front-running Indiana and anxious to avenge a one-point loss in Ann Arbor back in January.

It looked as though the Wolverines would get their wish when they had a 75-73 lead and the ball in the last minute. However, with the shot clock winding down inside the final 10 seconds, the Wolverines shot and missed.

Jones wound up with the ball in his hands and methodically worked his way up court. He stopped outside the arc, waiting for the shooter he trusted the most, Edwards, to get open.

The seconds ticked away until it looked as though Jones might just dribble out the clock. With 17,000 Hoosier fans screaming for Jones to shoot, he ignored them until Edwards curled free about two strides beyond the top of the key. Jones then rifled a pass to Edwards, who did not hesitate to pull the trigger.

The ball had barely left his fingertips when the horn sounded. It seemed like another full second or two while the ball was in flight. When it plunged into the bottom of the net, the building nearly imploded.

“I think I went brain dead there for a minute,” Jones can now chuckle. “Jay and I had played together for so long, I knew he would get open. I wanted him to take a shot before I had to take a bad shot. It was just our regular offense. He hit it right in the flow, about a 30-footer.”

That 76-75 win gave Indiana a commanding lead in the league race.

It was one of the more improbable titles for the Hoosiers, who were 3-4 after getting blown out by Syracuse, North Carolina, Louisville and Notre Dame. At that point Knight went to a three-guard offense out of a mix consisting of Edwards, Jones, Joe Hillman and Jamal Meeks. The forwards consisted of Eric Anderson, Todd Jadlow, Brian Sloan, Magnus Pelkowski, Chuckie White, Jeff Oliphant and Mark Robinson.

“Joe (Hillman) was a great leader and Jay a great player,” Jones said. “The rest of us competed for the other three spots. We started running the three-guard offense and things started clicking.”

Two years later, with an almost entirely different cast, the Hoosiers were Big Ten champs again. Jones found himself a part-time starter on a team consisting of Anderson, Meeks, Calbert Cheaney, Greg Graham, Matt Nover, Damon Bailey, Pat Graham and Chris Reynolds.

Jones no longer had Edwards to look for, but Cheaney was a pretty good option.

“They were two different ball players,” he said. “Jay’s game was more out on the perimeter. Calbert could go both inside and outside. Calbert was bigger than Jay.”

Jones finished his career with 306 assists, good for 10th on the all-time list at the time. Since then nine other Hoosiers have gone around him.

After graduation, Jones gave pro ball a shot. He played one season with the Fort Wayne Fury of the Continental Basketball Association and one with the Youngstown Pride of the World Basketball League. After that it was time to go on to other things.

“After a couple of years of pro ball it was ‘Hey, it’s time to start the game of life’,” Jones said.

Jones still keeps an eye on Knight and also on IU’s new coach, Kelvin Sampson.

“I think Indiana is headed back in the right direction,” he said. “You can see how bad fans want a good team again, a team they are used to seeing. That’s what Kelvin is doing.”

Jones was pleased to see Knight break Dean Smith’s all-time record.

“It was unfortunate he couldn’t do it here, but he is deserving of it,” Jones said. “I don’t think he is in coaching for that, though. I think he just loves the game and loves teaching it to young men.”

LYNDON JONES

Age: 38

Occupation: Shift coordinator, Cummings Diesel (Columbus)

HIGH SCHOOL CAREER

• Played on 3 state championship teams at Marion (1985-87)

• Named Co-Mr. Basketball with Jay Edwards, 1987

IU CAREER

• Played on two Big Ten champions (1989, ’91)

• Scored 688 points

• Handed out 306 assists (19th)

PRO CAREER

• Played for Fort Wayne Fury (CBA), 1992-93

• Played for Youngstown Pride (WBL), 1993