Toughness defines RMU senior Velton Jones
Velton Jones has not been the point guard for Robert Morris forever. It only seems that way. Asked what the fifth-year senior known to all as “V” has meant to the program, Colonials coach Andy Toole uttered, “Wow.”
As an assistant, Toole recruited Jones out of north Philadelphia. Jones sat out his first year but practiced with the squad, then became a starter under previous coach Mike Rice. He has held tight to the position since.
When the top-seeded Colonials play their Northeast Conference Tournament opener at home Wednesday against No. 8 St. Francis (N.Y), it will be Jones' 132nd game, second in RMU history. The record is 134. If the Colonials win three straight and advance to the NCAA Tournament, he will own the mark.
Jones has set school records for games started, free throws and attempts, and he is fifth in points. He needs 22 assists to break that record. On Tuesday, he was named first-team all-conference for a second straight year. In early February, Jones hit a 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds left for a 55-53 win over Sacred Heart, and later in the month he made a floater in the lane that decided a win over LIU Brooklyn.
Yet, Toole noted, Jones is not “your classic skill guy” or “cookie-cutter point guard.”
He is defined by his mental and physical toughness. It is the foundation of his game, his on-court persona. More than the face of RMU basketball, Jones is the heart and guts.
He is playing with a separated shoulder that forced him to miss four games and nearly all of two others.
“One of his greatest attributes is his will,” Toole said.
“I hate losing,” said Jones, a muscular 6-footer. “That's what it is. I hate, hate, hate it.”
The toughness, he said, comes mainly from his mother, Patricia Bryant, who is battling a recurrence of cancer. “She's gonna beat it,” he said.
Jones said she always told him, “Never be a follower. Be a leader,” words he took to heart.
“It's just in me,” he said.
Jones will drive on any opponent even though he often is the shortest player on the floor. When things go wrong, he usually is the angriest. Away from the game he is reserved and polite. In competition he is something else. But sometimes, as senior forward Russell Johnson explained, “You need an anger guy at the right time.”
“However I'm feeling, I'll just say it,” Jones said. “Like if somebody's messing up on defense or doing something wrong.” But, he added, “If they're doing something right I'm the first one to tell 'em, ‘Good job.' ”
Jones and Toole are more than a bit alike. “We both got a little fiery edge to us,” Jones said, smiling. This has led to some interesting interactions over the years.
“Velton is very intelligent,” Toole said. “He's very perceptive. He's opinionated. We're not always going to agree.”
Said Jones, “Coach Toole hates to be wrong. I don't like to be wrong. We're both stubborn. But at the end of the day, he's the coach, and I'm the player.”
Jones transferred from a public high school to a Catholic school because he said he wanted more “discipline” in basketball and academics. Still, he admitted that his classroom diligence was somewhat lacking. His grades possibly scared away bigger programs, but Jones used that as motivation. Asked if he carried a little chip on his shoulder, he replied, “a big chip.”
Forced to sit out his first year at RMU because of grades, Jones was allowed to practice. He wasn't enthusiastic about that at first, but later came to realize its benefits. “It was a great experience,” he said. “I got to learn the system, and I got to grow up.”
He will graduate in May.
Toole said he was especially attracted to Jones' intelligence and feistiness, but there was work to be done. Despite his competitive streak, Jones' work ethic away from the court and in the classroom required adjustment.
“We had to convince him that if he actually put the effort in at points other than the game, he would have success in the game,” Toole said.
During Jones' four seasons, the Colonials are 89-46. Said Toole, “As he goes, we go.”