By JOHN JAMES MARSHALL, Journal Sports
He’s a coach with 700 career wins, but you are wasting your time if you try to remind Huntington boys basketball coach Mack Jones that he’s never won a state championship.
Because to him, he’s winning one every day.
“Those are just trophies that gather dust,” Jones says. “What I put into kids’ lives and see them when they come back … that’s like a state championship for me. Just to watch the fruit of my labor, that’s it.”
He’s 57 years old and had no idea he’d be coaching high school basketball at this age – much less reach 700 wins earlier this year — but then again, Jones has never really done anything else.
“It’s been like a dream to me,” he says.
A really, really good dream.
In high school, he was the MVP on the All-City team in 1982-83 when he averaged 19.6 points per game in leading the Green Oaks Giants to the playoffs. From there, he went on to play at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Jones did his student teaching at Byrd under coaches Charles Thrash and Delbert Clinton and after two years, found himself as the head coach at Woodlawn.
He was 24 years old.
“That,” he says, “was some on-the-job training.”
But he stayed at Woodlawn for 13 years – taking the Knights to the state quarterfinals in 2003 – before taking over at Huntington in 2003-04.
Jones has built the Raiders into one of the top programs in Class 4A. Jones has led them to six 30-win seasons and they have made three state semifinal appearances, including last year when Jones and his team had to overcome the death of one of its players as the playoffs began.
Jones has won nine district championships at Huntington and three at Woodlawn. He had an eight-year run at Huntington in which he only lost a total of two district games.
He hasn’t had a losing season in more than 20 years.
Instead of taking a night off, it’s not unusual to find Jones sitting in the stands at Huntington freshmen and JV road games.
“I’ve never worked a day in my life,” Jones said. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else. I was fortunate enough to come back home, so this is not work for me. It’s fun.”
OK, maybe not all the time. February 27, 2007, wasn’t exactly his favorite memory when Barbe sank a mid-court shot that was clearly after the buzzer to take a one-point win in the second round of the playoffs. “That was a tough one,” Jones says.
Getting to 700 wins was never a goal for Jones. It’s just happened that way.
“First of all, you have to have good players,” Jones says. “But mostly, you have to work hard every day and just do the day-to-day grind and make sure the program is always going in the right direction. Make sure the kids are doing the right thing. And lo and behold, you look up and wins will take care of themselves.”
And it is still just as much fun now as it has ever been. Every morning, he has the Huntington JV players for first period, so he knows what he is walking into every day.
“To see those kids and the smile on their faces first thing in the morning makes me feel good,” Jones says. “I want them to be on the right path and know that it’s not just about basketball.”
He’d rather not think about how much longer he will be coaching, but he knows the clock is ticking.
“I look at these freshmen … (the players) just keep coming,” he says. “It’s hard to walk away. I know eventually I’m going to have to. Not that I can’t do another 10 years. But someone is going to come along and do a better job than I did.
“To me, coaching hasn’t changed much,” he adds. “The kids have changed. I’ve worked with some of the best coaches around and I’ve taken a lot from some of the best and tried to make my own way of doing things. It’s like a dream for me.”
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