REYNOLDS – Reynolds senior Josh Jones woke up on the morning of Feb. 19 set to play Mountain Athletic Conference regular-season champion North Buncombe for the third time in a month.
After losing the first two matchups by a combined 24 points, Jones and his team now had the daunting task of trying to win the MAC 3-A tournament on the Black Hawks’ home court.
But North Buncombe was the least of his worries.
Jones, who had been feeling sick throughout the conference tournament, had the flu and a fever of 102 degrees.
As temperatures rose in the cramped North Buncombe gym, Jones and the Rockets were prepared to do whatever it took to dethrone the rival Black Hawks. Reynolds held a potent North Buncombe offense to 50 points in regulation, and then proceeded to win the game with a gritty overtime performance.
Jones remembered the conference championship game win as his best memory in a green-and-gold jersey, but the humble point guard never mentioned that his illness had anything to do with it. He had just gone out and won a basketball game with this teammates. That was all.
However, Rockets coach Clint Loftin recognized that game as the one moment that described Jones perfectly as a player.
“There was never any doubt that he was going to play,” said Loftin.
After averaging 14 points, four assists, and three rebounds per game his senior season, Jones is now committed to play college basketball for William Peace University in Raleigh, fulfilling a dream he has had since first grade to play at the next level.
Loftin began coaching in the 2012-13 season, the same year Jones came up as a freshman. The new coach inherited a struggling Reynolds boys program that had not won a playoff game in over a decade.
“Our program has steadily improved each year. Josh and his classmates have played a tremendous role in this. Their die-hard commitment to the game and each other has helped provide the stability our program needed,” said Loftin.
Loftin knew that he could not have reached the success of the 2015-16 season without the dedication of his players.
“Josh and his classmates have been more than just players; they’ve been like assistant coaches, deeply invested in seeing our program succeed,” Loftin added. “They’ve had input in the growth of the program because they’ve earned our trust. Josh will be the first to tell you that he has an opportunity to play college basketball largely because of the loyalty of his teammates.”
This mutual relationship between coach and players helped to build the Reynolds team into a MAC tournament champion, and helped it win its first postseason game in years. The Rockets ended up advancing to the third round of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs.
“The playoff run was a once in a lifetime experience. It’s something that we all worked hard for; we all believed in each other and we accomplished it,” said Jones. “I’m satisfied with going to the third round because no one thought we would even win one playoff game. It was something that hasn’t been done at Reynolds for a very long time.”
Loftin always appreciated how Jones coached himself and motivated himself to work harder and get better, but Loftin said that Jones’ biggest improvement was learning how to turn that motivation outwardly to his teammates.
“Josh has gone from being content to watch others lead to being a leader himself. He gave a powerful talk to our team late in the year about investment. ‘Why did we lift all those weights? Why did we endure those long road runs? The 6:30 a.m. workouts?’ This was his way of challenging his teammates,” recalled Loftin.
Jones credits Warren Wilson coach Anthony Barringer and trainer Desmond Penigar for boosting his confidence and skills in order to get to a point where he could play at the next level. The stats and stories of Jones’s performance over the years at Reynolds speak to his readiness to play at William Peace next year and do it all over again.
When asked what he was most excited for next year, Jones said: “Getting a really good education that will benefit me for the rest of my life, and making a lot of memories with the teammates there. All the teammates and the coaches are really great guys.”
In the end, the soft-spoken Jones did not care about his numbers or big-game heroics; he just wanted to have a positive impact on his team.
“I want to be known as a player that can do more than one thing on the court, who works hard, would do anything for his teammates, has fun, and loves the game of basketball,” Jones said.
Meanwhile, Loftin said that if he had three words to describe Jones, they would be trustworthy, relentless and inspirational.
For the kid affectionately known by his teammates as “3J,” those three words were certainly not the last trifecta he would hit.