TERRE HAUTE —
Admittedly disappointed in his team’s 7-10 record, Jim Jones does not regret his decision to leave the comforts of retirement and return to coaching boys high school basketball this season at Springs Valley.
On the contrary, he’s looking forward to at least one more season at the helm.
“I’m having a good time,” Jones told the Tribune-Star in a phone interview late last week. “We’re just having trouble winning some games lately. We haven’t shot the ball very well the last couple games.”
The Blackhawks from French Lick had lost three in a row before winning a 34-31 decision at highly regarded Borden on Saturday. They’ll return to action tonight at home against Barr-Reeve.
Jones advised Springs Valley fans to be patient because it may take a while for the program to regain some of its previous success.
“Once we get it established, I think we can start seeing some dividends down the road,” Jones said. “It may take five or six years, though.”
For Jones, this is one of those “you can return home again” stories.
A graduate of Oolitic High School (1955) and Indiana University (1960), Jones took his first head-coaching job at Springs Valley in 1962-63. Since then, he’s won 686 games (seventh most in Indiana history), 25 sectional championships, six regional titles and one semistate crown (with Princeton in 1983) and earned induction into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
After serving 23 seasons as Terre Haute North’s coach, Jones called it quits in 2008. Before last summer, he decided to come back for his 46th season overall after previous Springs Valley coach Josh Thompson left to assume the same position at Wood Memorial.
Jones acknowledged last week that the Class A Blackhawks, who start four seniors and a 6-foot-3 freshman (currently the tallest student in the school), are having trouble beating some of the top small-school teams in southern Indiana. They finished 2-4 in the Patoka Lake Conference.
“There are some great 1A and 2A basketball teams in the southern part of the state,” he pointed out. “We’re just not on that level yet.”
Despite their recent lack of victories, Jones isn’t faulting the players for a lack of effort.
“The kids have just worked so hard,” he emphasized. “It just seems like a lot of the things we do are kinda self-inflicting.
“It’s a lot different than it was when I was here before. We’re kinda mediocre. … But the kids want to do better.”
Senior starting guard Chance Kellams, for one, is glad the 75-year-old Jones took over the Springs Valley program.
“He’s done a great job,” Kellams said. “He’s definitely old-school. He runs a lot of the same plays he ran back in the day.
“I knew he coached a lot of good teams at Springs Valley in the 1960s and 1970s. I knew he coached Larry Bird [in the 1970s]. But other than that, I didn’t know a whole lot about him.”
Kellams also gets a chuckle out of Jones telling his players “don’t be a Woodpecker” — a long-standing reference to dribbling the ball pointlessly when it could be advanced more effectively through passes.
“He’s definitely enjoying himself,” Kellams added. “We’ve lost some close games, but it’s good that we’re finally getting used to his system. We had a bad basketball culture before, but he’s doing a great job of changing it.”
Helping Jones change it is longtime friend Butch Emmons, who as a Springs Valley senior in 1962-63 served as student-manager on Jones’ first team there. Now 67, Emmons is Jones’ varsity assistant.
“[Coaching again] is something I never thought I would do,” insisted Emmons, who had retired in 2010 after being a teacher, assistant principal/athletic director and principal at various times in his lengthy administrative career at Springs Valley.
“To be honest, he’s the only guy I would have come back for. With the history we had, I thought it would give me something fun to do this winter.”
So far, the season has been fun for Emmons.
“We would like to have won a few more games at this point, but we’re playing better,” he assessed. “The kids are responding well to what we’re trying to get accomplished.”
Emmons agreed with Kellams that Jones also appears to be enjoying himself on the job.
“He’s having a good time with it,” Emmons noted. “He just has a true love for basketball and a real desire to coach it. He doesn’t plan to do it long term, by any means.”
But Jones doesn’t plan to leave the court anytime soon either.
“I go up [to the school] early and I stay all day,” he mentioned. “I get to see a lot of people. Some of them are former players who come by. And I still get to catch up on Terre Haute basketball [over the phone] with Todd [Woelfle], Joe [Boehler] and Clint [Weddle].”
Jones admitted that his wife Joyce “didn’t deserve this,” meaning his being away from home so much because of his new coaching responsibilities. “We should be in Florida enjoying the sunshine,” he said.
But at least Jim and Joyce remain close to their four great-grandsons, whom they see often in Jasper.
“Health-wise, I’m real good,” he added. “I’ve actually lost a few pounds by walking a lot.”