Robert Morris considers itself lucky to have Jones playing a high level
From the start, Robert Morris senior Lucky Jones candidly talked about the challenges and potential roadblocks in Division I.
He seemingly said all the right things and tried to show the new players what it takes to be successful at college basketball's highest level.
Unfortunately for Jones, much of it was just talk. It took some late-season struggles for Jones to realize he needed to change.
Robert Morris (19-14) will be playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010, and Jones is a big reason why.
The Colonials will face North Florida (23-11) in a South Region No 16 seed play-in game at 6:40 p.m. Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, for the right to advance to Charlotte to play Duke on Friday.
Jones struggled for a portion of this season. After a home loss to LIU Brooklyn, Jones had had enough.
A team meeting that lasted more than an hour followed three losses in four games in mid-February. On top of that, Jones served a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
Robert Morris split its next two games, needing a tip at the buzzer by Aaron Tate to edge last-place Central Connecticut State on one occasion.
“It was a reality check for me,” said Jones, who returned to the team at Bryant on Feb. 21. “It was something inside me that I had to get out.
“Obviously, I didn't have the season I wanted to have, but we finally reached the goal we've talked about all year.”
Before the Bryant game, Robert Morris coach Andy Toole told the team Jones wanted to apologize.
Toole said the team unanimously voted Jones back, and he has responded by playing his best basketball of the year.
“I'm proud of my team and proud of my coaches,” Jones said. “Thankfully, we were able to pull things together at the right time. We're playing together and we're playing hard.”
Jones' return coincides with the Colonials current six-game winning streak, a Northeast Conference Tournament title and NCAA Tournament berth.
“Lucky has been himself since he returned,” Toole said. “He's been great in the locker room, great in timeouts. He's been great on the floor, and he worries more about his teammates than himself. And when that happens, you play looser,
“He's done all the things we know he's capable of doing and he's done it at a high level. It's allowed other guys to do what they are capable of and it's allowed everybody to play at ease, more than on edge.”
Toole said while Jones was sidelined, things started to fall in place for the team. Adding Jones was just a bonus.
Junior Rodney Pryor said the team is glad Jones is back.
“He's really been a leader,” Pryor said. “Everyone is accepting their roles and we're having fun.”
Toole said that was part of the team's struggles during the season. Players now have accepted their roles.
“There were a lot of guys trying to do more than they capable at times instead of just allowing each piece to do their job,” Toole said. “With Lucky at times, he gets frustrated when he doesn't think other guys are doing their job. Sometimes he tries to do his job and their job, and then he ends up doing neither job well.
“We told him what you can control is you: Your attitude, your actions and your effort. If you can do that, it allows other people to see that's the best way to do things and it will make it easier on everyone.”
Jones began to show leadership, and Toole said players heeded his huddle talk.
“When he returned at Bryant, during a timeout in the second half he told the team ‘we're OK. Let's get a stop,' and the players said ‘OK,'” Toole said. “The last month, he's been absolutely terrific and we've enjoyed coaching him.”