Head Coach Robert Jones
Head coach Robert Jones embarks on his fourth season leading the Norfolk State men’s basketball program in 2016-17 and his 10th year overall with the Spartans. NSU has posted a .730 winning percentage in conference play and made three straight MEAC tournament semifinal and overall postseason appearances during his first three years in charge.
Jones has continued NSU’s recent five-year string of success on the court, including just the third 20-win season in the program’s Division I history in 2014-15. That year saw the Spartans finish second in the MEAC regular season standings at 12-4, the third-most wins in 17 seasons in the league. NSU went 20-14 overall, with six victories coming against teams that played in the postseason.
In his third year in 2015-16, NSU again went 12-4 in conference play, tied for second in the regular season standings. The Spartans posted a 17-17 overall record, their fifth straight season finishing .500 or better. That ran Jones’ overall head coaching record to 56-46, including 35-13 in MEAC play.
For the fifth straight year – and the fifth time in the D-I era that began in 1997-98 – NSU competed in the postseason, taking part in the CollegeInsider.com tournament in 2016 for the third straight season. The Spartans are the only team in the 13-team MEAC to make a postseason appearance each of the last five years. They are also now tied for eighth in the nation in D-I basketball for the longest streak of .500-or-better conference records, now at 18 years and counting heading into the 2016-17 campaign.
NSU advanced to the MEAC tournament semifinals in 2016 for the third straight year and the seventh time in Jones’ nine years with the program. Only once during those nine seasons has NSU finished outside the top 4 in the regular season standings. For everything that was accomplished during each of his previous two years leading the program, Jones was named a finalist for the Ben Jobe Award, presented by CollegeInsider.com to the top minority coach in D-I basketball, in both 2015 and ’16.
In his first season as head coach, Jones led the Spartans to a 19-15 overall record in 2013-14 and an 11-5 mark in the MEAC, tied for third in the league standings. NSU took part in its first of three straight CollegeInsider.com postseason tournaments. He was also one of 10 finalists for CollegeInsider’s Joe B. Hall Award, presented to the most outstanding first-year D-I head coach.
He has coached numerous outstanding players during his time at NSU, including several during his first three years as head coach. Guard Jeff Short continued the program’s trend of first-team all-conference honorees in both 2015 and ‘16. Norfolk State has now had a first-team all-MEAC player in eight of the last nine years and an all-conference player every season since 2003-04.
In addition, forward Jordan Butler was named to the 2015 MEAC All-Rookie team, while forward Alex Long continued the trend with an all-rookie team nod in 2016.
Pendarvis Williams was named AP All-America honorable mention and also earned a spot on the Lou Henson All-America Team for mid-major players following his senior year in 2013-14. He later competed in the Reese’s College All-Star Game at the 2014 Final Four and with the Houston Rockets Summer League team in Las Vegas before playing professionally in Italy.
Williams was one of three players to earn All-MEAC status in 2014 along with second-team guard Malcolm Hawkins and third-team center Brandon Goode. A large senior class, the second-winningest in D-I history next to the 2015 class, led NSU to the semifinals of the MEAC tournament in 2014 and what is now the fourth-most wins (11) since joining the conference.
Goode (Estonia) joined Williams in playing overseas in 2015-16. They were two of a total of eight former Spartans who competed professionally during the season.
Jones’ teams have continued to make strides in their on-court performance with his more up-tempo offenses. In 2015-16, NSU averaged 73.4 points per game, the most in program history in 16 years. NSU also set school records for fewest turnovers per game (12.4), most 3-pointers (242) and best free throw percentage (77.5), the latter a mark that ranked third in the nation.
Under Jones, NSU has set D-I program records for fewest turnovers per game (twice) and most assists per game as well as total free throws made. The Spartans have scored at least 70 points per game each of his three seasons as head coach after doing so just once in the previous 12 years.
Jones was named the interim head coach of the NSU basketball team on April 15, 2013, following the departure of former head coach Anthony Evans. A former assistant coach with the Spartans, Jones’ interim title was removed in February of 2014 during that first year leading the program.
During the 2012-13 season, Jones served as the associate head coach. It marked his sixth straight year as an assistant coach with the program, all under Evans. It was the last two years of that tenure, though, that the Spartans really began to flourish.
After capturing the MEAC tournament title in 2012 and upsetting No. 2 seed Missouri in the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans captured the conference’s regular season title in 2013 with a 16-0 record. It marked just the fourth time ever a MEAC school ran the table during the regular season, a remarkable accomplishment considering NSU lost four of its five starters from that 2012 championship team.
The Spartans won their first regular-season title since finishing in a tie for first in the CIAA Northern Division in 1994-95. They were also one of three schools nationally in 2012-13 to go undefeated in conference play along with Gonzaga and Memphis. Heading into the MEAC tournament, NSU’s 15-game win streak stood as the second-longest in the nation at the time.
After capturing the regular season crown, NSU earned the league’s automatic bid to the NIT, where the Spartans faced Virginia in the first round. NSU went 21-12 overall in 2012-13, the second 20-win season in two years after its 26-10 campaign during the 2011-12 campaign. In fact, the Spartans trail just VCU and Virginia for the most wins (103) the last five years among the 14 D-I schools in the state of Virginia.
During his six-year tenure as an assistant coach, two of Jones’ primary responsibilities included developing the perimeter players and serving as the team’s recruiting coordinator. His prowess on the recruiting trail was key to NSU making a turnaround beginning in 2011-12, and the story of his biggest catch was played out in the national media during NSU’s 86-84 upset of Missouri that season.
The star of the game, senior center Kyle O’Quinn, was one of Jones’ first recruits at NSU. Making the story headline-worthy was the fact O’Quinn, an unheralded high school player who only really played his senior year, received one D-I offer in high school – that from the Spartan basketball program.
O’Quinn became the centerpiece of the 2011-12 team that won its first-ever MEAC title and finished with the most wins (26) in 17 years. His stock continued to rise following a very successful senior year, including his 26-point, 14-rebound effort against the Tigers, as well as through his MVP performance at the Portsmouth Invitational. The Orlando Magic later selected O’Quinn with the 49th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, NSU’s first draft pick since 1988.
O’Quinn made his regular season debut with the Magic on Nov. 2, 2012 against Denver, becoming the first NSU player to appear in a regular season NBA game since David Pope during the 1985-86 campaign. That same year back at NSU, Williams followed in O’Quinn’s footsteps by being named the 2013 MEAC Player of the Year one season after O’Quinn captured the award. Williams was one of several guards who earned all-conference honors while under Jones’ watch.
Jones also helped tutor 2009 All-MEAC players Michael Deloach and Corey Lyons, who led the team to its first-ever MEAC Tournament championship game appearance. Deloach, who has played professionally since his career ended at NSU, earned All-MEAC honors again in 2010. Williams was a MEAC All-Rookie Team pick in 2011, while in 2012 guard Chris McEachin earned All-MEAC second-team accolades.
Deloach (Italy), McEachin (Czech Republic), Aleek Pauline (France), Anell Alexis (Germany) and Jamel Fuentes (Puerto Rico) joined Williams, Goode and O’Quinn (New York Knicks) in playing professionally in 2015-16.
After arriving at NSU following the promotion of Evans to the head coaching position in 2007, Jones became an essential part in the Spartans’ continued rise during Evans’ six-year head coaching stint.
In his first year as assistant coach in 2007-08, Jones helped the Spartans secure their second winning record as a D-I program with a 16-15 overall record. NSU also notched what at the time was its best-ever MEAC record at 11-5, tying for second place in the regular-season standings. A year later, the program made its first MEAC Tournament title game appearance. Three years after that in 2012, the Spartans finished second in the regular season standings at 13-3 and finally broke through the ceiling with the tournament championship.
Jones came to NSU after spending two seasons in 2005-07 as the head varsity boys basketball coach at St. Mary's High School in Manhasset, N.Y. His teams compiled a 32-15 record competing in New York's highest classification (Class AA). Under Jones' direction, St. Mary's advanced to two consecutive Nassau-Suffolk Catholic League championship games. As head coach, Jones sent three of his players to D-I institutions. One of those was former Spartan forward Marcos Tamares, a key member of the 2012 MEAC Championship team.
Jones was the head freshman team coach and an assistant varsity coach at St. Mary's in 2004-05. That year, the varsity team went 25-1 and finished the season ranked 10th nationally by USA Today. Jones helped tutor four more future D-I players, including University of North Carolina graduate and 2009 Cleveland Cavaliers draftee Danny Green and former West Virginia University star and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers draftee Devin Ebanks.
Between stints as a high school and AAU coach, 13 of Jones’ players have earned D-I scholarships, including former Spartans Tamares, Pauline and Quasim Pugh.
Prior to joining the high school ranks, Jones served for three seasons as an assistant coach at a pair of D-III schools. Jones was an assistant coach at Bard College in 2001-02 prior to serving a two-year stint at his alma mater, the State University of New York at New Paltz. There, Jones helped the Hawks reach the SUNYAC championship game in 2003.
Jones was a four-year letterwinner from 1997-2001 at New Paltz. He played under Evans, who was an assistant at New Paltz from 1997-99. Jones was a three-time All-SUNYAC selection and an honorable mention D-III All-American in 2000. Jones ranks No. 9 all-time in school history in scoring with 1,321 points, first in blocks with 140 and second in rebounds with 875.
Jones earned his bachelor's degree in business management from New Paltz in 2002. In 2011, he was also selected to attend the NCAA’s Achieving Coaching Excellence (ACE) program, a professional development workshop for college coaches administered by the NCAA Student-Athlete Affairs department in partnership with the Black Coaches and Administrators (BCA).