Head coach Robert Jones sets out on his sixth season leading the Norfolk State men’s basketball program in 2018-19 and his 12th year overall with the Spartans. NSU has posted a .725 winning percentage in conference play and made four postseason appearances during his first five years in charge.
Jones has continued NSU’s recent 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 12-4 and finished second in the regular season standings in both 2015-16 and 2016-17. The Spartans have been no worse than tied for fourth in the 13-team league during his tenure after most recently finishing 11-5 in 2017-18. They also advanced to the MEAC tournament semifinals the first four seasons under Jones, including a trip to the championship game in 2017.
Jones’ overall head coaching mark now stands at 87-82, including 58-22 in MEAC play. He is one of just three coaches in the league with an overall winning record.
NSU took part in the CollegeInsider.com tournament in 2017 for the fourth straight season. It also marked the sixth straight overall postseason berth. All six of NSU’s postseason appearances during its D-I era, which started in 1997-98, came during that six-year time frame from 2012-17.
Norfolk State is also eighth in the nation in D-I basketball for the longest streak of .500-or-better conference records, now at 20 years and counting heading into the 2018-19 campaign. Every other team in the MEAC has had at least one losing conference record since 2014-15.
NSU advanced to the MEAC Championship game in 2017, just the program’s third-ever title game appearance. It also marked the fourth straight year and the eighth time in Jones’ 11 years with the program that NSU had gotten to the semifinal round. In fact, only once during his 11 seasons as an assistant or head coach has NSU finished outside the top 4 in the regular season standings.
The Spartans also won 10 straight conference games during the 2016-17 season, the second-longest win streak in the program’s D-I history. Jones was named a finalist for the Ben Jobe Award, presented by CollegeInsider.com to the top minority coach in D-I basketball, three times from 2015-17.
In his first season as head coach in 2013-14, Jones led the Spartans to a 19-15 overall record and an 11-5 mark in the MEAC, tied for third in the league standings. 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. NSU then went 20-14 overall in 2014-15, with six victories coming against teams that played in the postseason.
Jones has coached numerous outstanding players during his time at NSU, including several during his stint as head coach. Guard Jonathan Wade continued the program’s trend of first-team all-conference honorees in 2017. Norfolk State had a first-team all-MEAC player nine out of 10 years from 2008-17 and at least one all-conference player every season from 2004-17.
Guard Jeff Short earned first-team all-conference accolades in 2015 and ’16, and Zaynah Robinson joined Wade in 2017 with a second-team nod. 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 honor in 2016.
In Jones’ first year, 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 going on to a professional career in the NBA G League and 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. That senior class finished as the second-winningest in D-I history next to the 2015 class. They are three of numerous players Jones has coached who have gone on to compete professionally, including Wade (Switzerland), Williams (Italy), Michael Deloach (Italy), Anell Alexis (Germany), Jamel Fuentes (Mexico) and D’Shon Taylor (Bahamas) last year in addition to Kyle O’Quinn with the New York Knicks.
Jones’ teams have continued to make strides in their on-court performance with his more up-tempo offense, averaging at least 70 points per game four of his first five seasons as head coach after doing so just once in the previous 12 years. In 2015-16, NSU averaged 73.4 points per game, the most in program history in 16 years. NSU also set the school records for best free throw percentage (77.5), a mark that ranked third in the nation.
Under Jones, NSU has set D-I program records for total 3-pointers (twice), fewest turnovers per game (twice), rebounds per game (twice), 3-point field goal percentage, 3-point field goal attempts, assists per game, free throws made, free throw percentage, field goal attempts and rebounds. Most recently, Norfolk State set the overall school record for 3-pointers (254) and the D-I records for 3-point percentage (35.9) and rebounds per game (38.5) in 2017-18.
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, Virginia and Old Dominion for the most wins (134) the last seven 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 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.
He also helped tutor 2009 All-MEAC players 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.
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 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).