Matt Jones played for Burris during one of the best stretches in boys basketball program history.
The Owls won two sectional championships and posted a cumulative 61-10 record in his final three seasons (2001-04). Yet, the life lessons former coach Brian Carr taught Jones remain fresher in his mind than any of the titles or victories.
Now, Jones is in the same position Carr once held as he takes over the program from Greg Hitches (25-20 record in two seasons), and the 2004 Burris graduate is trying to instill those same values in his players.
“In our practices, there was no room for not giving your best. It wasn’t tolerated,” Jones said. “You had to give everything you had all of the time, and that’s what I’ve carried over to these guys.”
Jones inherits a team that is transitioning to life after Mack Rathbun. The Burris graduate surpassed the 1,000-point career threshold and averaged 24.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game as a senior.
“Mack was a do-it-all player last year,” senior Jonny Norris said. “He rebounded and scored and passed. He pretty much did everything for us. It’s going to really hurt losing him, but I think we’ll be a more consistent team, just because everyone’s going to have to step up.”
Norris and Chris Newman are the only seniors on a youthful and undersized Burris roster. Newman said Burris will essentially put five guards on the court and play without a true post player.
The Owls will switch up their defenses to try and limit opponents from pounding the ball inside for easy baskets, and on the other end, they will push tempo and try to score points either in the paint off penetration or from the outside on drive-and-kick action.
“While it might be hard for us to guard their bigs, it’s going to be hard for them to stay with us, because we’re really quick,” Jones said. “We get out and push the ball, and so I see it as a complete advantage.”
Jones is stressing to his team to play fast, play smart and above all else put forth maximum effort. In his opinion, the best way for the Owls to overcome their relatively short stature and any other deficiencies is to outwork their opponents.
“I don’t care if you hit every shot on offense. We’re not going to do that all of the time,” Jones said. “You may be out of sync, but you can always give your best effort and you can always win the hustle plays, and that’s something Coach Carr has instilled in me, and I’m trying to carry over here.”