Feb. 11, 2005
PHILADELPHIA - By Brian W. Ferrie '98
The town of Chester, about 5 miles southwest of Philadelphia on the banks of the Delaware River, has played a huge role in the resurgence of the Saint Joseph's basketball program. Sure, everybody knows that last year's National Player of the Year Jameer Nelson hailed from Chester.
Some might even know coach Phil Martelli played his college ball at Widener University in Chester and that the contacts he made there helped him land Nelson as a recruit. But another key cog in the Hawks' success the last few seasons also calls Chester home: Dwayne Jones.
Originally from Morgantown, WV, the 6-11 redshirt junior center moved to Chester, his father's hometown, at age four. He grew up playing pickup ball with Nelson (who was one year older) and other neighborhood kids, and attended American Christian School in Aston, PA, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
There he was a three-time, first-team All-Tri-State Christian Athletic Conference (TSCAC) selection. He was also TSCAC Player of the Year in 2000-2001, his senior season, averaging 25.8 points, 17.8 rebounds and 6.4 blocks per game.
Although Jones was recruited by several other prominent schools, Saint Joseph's had the inside track.
"Right around the time Jameer committed, I thought that's where I wanted to go to," he said. "My AAU team practiced at the Fieldhouse, so I got to know the coaches. [Former Hawk] Jeff Miller and Jameer were both on that team, and we were all friends."
When Jones committed to the Hawks in November of his senior year, he chose SJU over Virginia Tech and Rhode Island.
"North Carolina State had also come in late [in the recruiting process]," Jones recalled. "I heard from a lot of coaches [in general], but they all pretty much knew I was planning to go to St. Joe's."\
About a month into Jones' freshman year, it was decided that he would redshirt the season. The 2001-02 Hawks would be ranked in the preseason top 10 and already had a senior-laden frontcourt including Bill Phillips and Damian Reid, not to mention 7-foot redshirt junior Alex Sazonov. Since Jones likely wouldn't have gotten a lot of playing time anyway, the thought was he would benefit more by preserving a year of eligibility, practicing with the team every day and adding muscle in the weight room. "At the time, I didn't really want to sit out, because I love to play," Jones said. "But it turned out to be a great decision for me. The practice that season helped me a lot and I definitely got stronger."
His redshirt freshman season (2002-03), Jones played in 30 games, starting one, and averaged 4.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 21.0 minutes per game. His contribution, combined with Sazonov and forward-center Chris Cologer, helped the Hawks lead the A-10 in shot blocking. Overall, the team's stellar defense was a huge factor in its 26-7 season, Atlantic 10 East title and NCAA tournament berth, where St. Joe's lost a heartbreaking first-round game to Auburn in overtime.
And that was just a sneak preview of Jones' impressive redshirt sophomore season, in which he started all 32 games, averaged 27.1 minutes and contributed 6.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. His intimidating shot-blocking presence and defensive rebounding helped trigger many fastbreaks for that outstanding Hawks team that completed an undefeated regular season, advanced to the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament and registered a 30-2 final record.
"Last season was a great experience," he said. "People tended to focus on our [guards], but me, John [Bryant] and Dave [Mallon] contributed a lot in the frontcourt."
Coming into this season, after losing Nelson, Tyrone Barley and Delonte West from last year's team, Jones' goal was for Saint Joseph's to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
"And to win the A-10 tournament, which we haven't done here [since 1996-97]."
At this point, with an 8-8 overall record and a 3-7 non-conference mark, winning the A-10 tourney is probably the Hawks' only chance to get to the Big Dance. And Jones thinks it's definitely an attainable goal.
"Yeah, it's very realistic," he said. "The league is wide open this year. Nobody's head and shoulders above everybody else and I think we've positioned ourselves well so far [with an 8-1 conference record]."
Jones has played a vital role in the team's performance. For the season, he has started all 20 games, averaging a personal best 10.7 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game, leading the league in rebounds and blocks. He is proud of his individual performance so far but isn't about to become satisfied.
"I want to continue leading the A-10 in blocks and rebounding," he said. "I'd also like to finish in the top 10 in the country in both." Whereas last year Jones was recognized for being part of the solid supporting cast of a terrific team paced by Nelson and West, this season he is getting individual recognition as a burgeoning star. In fact, for the week of Jan. 14, he was named both Atlantic 10 and Big 5 Player of the Week.
"Those were pretty good accomplishments," he said. "And definitely goals I had for myself. I hope they're the first of many."
After both Nelson and West made the NBA this season with the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics, respectively, is it possible that Jones could follow in the footsteps of his former teammates and earn a spot in the league someday?
"I think it's a very serious possibility," he said. "Especially after seeing two of my friends get there. I watch NBA games and think that I have a lot to provide."
And wouldn't it be something if the same Chester-to-Saint Joseph's pipeline that Nelson took to the NBA, leads to the same destination for Jones.