Charlie being Charlie: A tribute to Charlie Jones

For me, the story of Charlie Jones began during the semifinals of the 2014 Patriot League tournament against Holy Cross. The host Eagles looked dead in the water, with a lifeless offense and trailing the Crusaders by 10 points early in the second half.

That's when the no-name freshman walk-on happened. That's when Charlie Jones saved American's season en route to the league title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. 

First, Charlie hit a 3. Then he scored a layup. Then he blocked a shot. Later, he saved a missed free throw right into the hands of Jesse Reed, who buried a game-clinching 3. Jones finished with five points, four rebounds and two steals — the type of stat line American fans have gotten very used to seeing, while realizing that he does so much more, the past four years. 

"I said it earlier this season, but Charlie has been our 'energizer bunny' all season long," Darius "Pee Wee" Gardner, a junior, said at the time. "He just comes in and is everywhere for us. We kind of built on that energy, especially on the defensive end."

This Sunday, Jones will play his final regular-season home game in an American uniform against that same team, Holy Cross. He undoubtedly will receive a well-deserved standing ovation from the AU faithful, but I still feel like he's underappreciated. Maybe people's recognition of Jones' contributions will come after his career is complete. 

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If the Holy Cross game was Jones' coming-out party, his sophomore year was validation of him as an integral piece of American's rotation — yet still as a walk-on. Name another walk-on in the country who started 31 of 33 games, playing 33 minutes per contest. Jones attempted just 5.4 field goals per game, but scored eight points per and did a little bit of everything else for a methodical American team that was the slowest tempo squad in college basketball.

Jones pulled down 3.8 rebounds per game, had a team-best 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio, averaged a steal a game, and was American's third-best 3-point shooter by percentage. But anyone who watched Jones that year knew that even with advanced analytics becoming more available, his contributions went beyond the stat sheet. On a very undersized American team that played 6-5 Mark Vasic at center (and even Jones at the position sometimes), Jones battled players three or four inches taller often. He took almost every jump ball. He skied fearlessly for rebounds. 

And he got a hand on everything. 

"GIVE CHARLIE JONES A SCHOLARSHIP."

Photos by Steve Christensen. 

Photos by Steve Christensen. 

Sam began saying this on every podcast we aired. It seemed like a no-brainer. And yet as the season concluded with a heartbreaker in the Patriot League title game to Lafayette, there was uncertainty. No one we talked to — players, parents — knew what would happen. And if Jones somehow wasn't given what he deserved, he had every right to transfer and be an impact player somewhere else.

That was our worst fear. 

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Thankfully, the Eagles made the easy choice and gave Jones a scholarship before his junior season. He would stay at American and provide that steady presence that a very young Eagles team needed. 

2015-16 started off brutally for AU. The Eagles went 2-9 in non-conference play and then things got even drearier as Patriot League play began. American dropped six straight league games by double digits, its losing streak reaching 10. All hope seemed lost. Mike Brennan spoke during his postgame press conferences about looking for answers, about trying anything.

Through it all, even while dealing with an ailing foot, Jones maintained an important veteran presence alongside seniors Jesse Reed and Marko Vasic. You could always count on Brennan to say that he knew what he would get from Jones. The quotes got repetitive, but they were never false. Jones was a bull on defense, third in the league in steal percentage (3.26). Jones was a beast on the boards, his 18.8% defensive rebounding rate 15th best in the league and No. 1 of anyone 6-4 or shorter. Jones' 2.62% block rate was 13th. 

When American, out of the blue, got red hot late in the season — first winning five straight to get to 5-6 and then picking up another handful of consecutive victories to unexpectedly finish the league 9-9 and upset BU on the road in the Patriot League quarterfinals — Jones was in the thick of things. 

Throughout his career, the only criticism of Jones has been that he passes up too many shots. And it's fair. But you can't say that he hasn't taken, and made, the big ones. In 2016, Jones hit at least one 3 in five of the Eagles' last six games. In an overtime win over Lafayette, he knocked down a game-tying 3 in the last minute of regulation and sealed the victory with a free throw in overtime. He also had a pivotal block. This, in a nutshell, is Charlie Jones. 

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Jones' senior season hasn't gone as planned. His performance hasn't fallen off, but the team has never gotten untracked. Now, with just three games left in the regular season, a late run of success for the Eagles seems increasingly unlikely. Still, the 6-foot-4 forward has done everything that endeared him to Eagles fans the previous three years. 

American opponents won't miss him.

He still takes the opening tip, often against a player six inches taller. He still dives on the floor at least once a game (no one on American causes more jump balls). He still crashes the glass on both ends of the court (his 19.8% defensive rebounding rate is the best of his career, 11th in the league, and best of anyone 6-4 or shorter by a whopping 4.4%). And he still hesitates to shoot, but then takes and makes big ones (Jones' 3-point shooting percentage by year: 31%, 37%, 45%, 33%). Jones is shooting 67% on 2s, good for 30th nationally. 

It's impossible to come close to listing all the non-box score plays Jones has made this year, or any of his four years, but we hope the video Sam put together (embedded above) does his contributions just a little justice. 

And how about this for statistical evidence of how important Jones has been to the Eagles as his career nears its conclusion?

Charlie Jones has played a Patriot League-high 95.7% of available minutes in conference play. That's even more than teammate Sa'eed Nelson (95.2%), who for much of the season has been in the top five nationally in minutes per game.

Charlie Jones is important. Charlie Jones has always been important. 

No one who's followed American the past four years would deny this. 

Loyola 68, American 66: Postgame quotes

Head coach Mike Brennan and Charlie Jones spoke after American's Patriot League opening 68-66 loss to Loyola. Full video above and selected quotes below. 

Mike Brennan
OPENING STATEMENT
"Loyola's a good team. Jarred Jones and Andre Walker, they're a handful. To be honest, I thought we did an OK job on Walker and he still had 18 and 7 (rebounds). We just didn't have enough. I thought we battled back, we fought, but that's a typical league game."

ON LOYOLA SCORING IN THE PAINT
"A lot of drives, a lot of guys that can — it wasn't necessarily post moves. It was a lot of drives. So it was hard to find someone for Mark to guard. But they're good at what they do."

ON JARRED JONES
"He gets where he wants to go. You sort of know what he wants to do, but it's hard to stop him. ... whoever you put on him, he'll take advantage of who's guarding him, he can do a lot of different things. Score in the post, drive from the outside, so we gotta figure something out next time we play them."

ANY THOUGHT TO GOING ZONE?
"No, we haven't practiced it enough to do it in a game. Not tonight."

ON PLAYING ALEX OVER JAMES (19 to 13 minutes)
"Alex has been practicing really well. He's been just real sharp offensively, defensively, tough. He sort of understands the importance of everything. He's been fighting for minutes and reps in practice, so I think if he gets more reps, he'll play even better. I thought he gave us really good minutes tonight."

Charlie Jones
WHAT NEEDS TO IMPROVE DEFENSIVELY?
"Just focusing in, our toughness through those final seconds of the shot clock. I mean, every second of the possession's important. Fighting through a screen early on, making sure you're on the right guy and when the clocks winding down, just trying to get a stop."

Maryland 62, American 56: Player postgame quotes

Charlie Jones and Delante Jones spoke after American's 62-56 loss to Maryland to begin the season. Full video above and selected quotes below. 

CHARLIE ON AU’S FRESHMEN
“Those two have definitely been working hard all offseason and preseason and practice and they definitely were aggressive tonight. I’m looking forward to seeing them (continue to) grow and build and keep helping us get better.”

CHARLIE ON FALLING JUST SHORT
“It’s definitely good to be more competitive out of the gate, but at the same time we still lost the game — game we could have won.”

DELANTE ON GASPERINI AND CIMINO SHOOTING WELL FROM OUTSIDE                 “It definitely opens the floor up for all of us and adds another dynamic to the team. I mean, they can knock them down.”

DELANTE ON HIS PASSING
“I think it’s still a work in progress for sure. I think I can do a lot better than what I did. I’m just gonna keep working on it, keep looking, keep trying to learn and play the way coach wants me to play. It was OK but definitely not where I want it to be.”

CHARLIE ON MARYLAND OUTREBOUNDING AU 44-22                                                     “It’s just a collective effort. We know there’s nothing we can do about having a size disadvantage and so everyone just has to fly in there and help each other out, keep loose balls alive and just go after it and make sure that each individual’s boxing their man out and attacking the ball.”

AU 2016-17 Media Day Quotes: Charlie Jones, Jalen Rhea

Selected quotes from seniors Charlie Jones and Jalen Rhea in advance of American's season-opener at Maryland. 

CHARLIE JONES

On Matt Cimino’s eligibility?
"It’s definitely exciting, Matt’s been working hard all preseason.  It’s a little bit of a different situation for him, not knowing if he can play, but he’s kept his head down, been working really hard and coming along really nicely - and he’ll definitely be able to help us out this year."

What did you improve the most during the offseason?
"My shot’s more consistent, I’m more confident with it this year. Hopefully I’ll just be able to step in, and if the shot’s open, take it, knowing that I’ve put in the work to make some shots; also, making plays with my right hand, finishing a little better.  Still can get better in both those areas, but definitely feel more comfortable and confident." 

How’s the three looking this year?
"Good.  I mean, there are some days when it’s not feeling as good. But the days where it’s going in over and over again are more and more than they have been in the past."

On his offseason conditioning and what he worked on?
"I went back out with my trainer who I’ve known for several years from my time in Baltimore out in California - was out there for a few weeks. And I did a lot of conditioning/strength stuff with him as I do every summer. But also, every summer I do focus on my game a lot, and making sure I can make more shots, be more of a force on offense, (so) that teams have to respect me on my home court so I can make the game easier for my teammates."   

Quick thoughts about the Maryland matchup?
"No, just excited for the atmosphere.  Sure, we’ll probably get a lot of hate from the students, but I have a lot of people who actually care about the game that’s going on."

Big home town crew coming?
"I’ve got a lot of family coming. I’ve got a lot of friends who go to Maryland, so they’ll probably be in the stands.  They’ll probably bring up some old dirt on me. We’ll see what they come up with." 

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JALEN RHEA

Thoughts on the NCAA’s ruling on Matt Cimino’s eligibility?
"I’m excited honestly.  I like Matt as a guy and the skills he brings to our team are going to be very important for us to win this year, honestly. He can shoot from the outside, his post moves are getting better by the day. And he’s doing what coach is asking him to do in the post, and he can see and pass.  So he’s gonna help us out a lot this year and hopefully get me a couple threes open too."

What part of your game, whether it was conditioning or technical aspects of your game, do you think you’ve most improved on?
"The most improvement for me was probably my conditioning.  I used to get winded a lot last year, which is part of the reason why I don’t think I played a ton. But conditioning was a big thing and I worked on my handling a little bit this offseason. And then, honestly, the biggest thing for me was confidence, and now seeing the offense for four years, I’m able to help the younger guys know what they’re doing and on top of that helps me know what I’m doing. So I would say just knowing what i’m doing is the biggest thing for me.  

 

I noticed that Pete Carril is here, the godfather of the Princeton offense.  Does he typically come for practices?
"Yeah, he usually comes once a year for a couple of days span, at least for the past two years he’s been here for a couple of days … just kind of doing what he does, just telling people Princeton tricks and tips and stuff. I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about. He wrote a book and my dad actually bought it for me and I read it my sophomore year. That dude definitely knows what he’s talking about and he understands the translation from basketball to life, so I really admire him."

First game’s coming up Friday night.  Butterflies?  Are you excited?  
"I’m excited. I really am. Honestly this is my last go-around and Maryland’s an enormous game. It’ll be a crazy atmosphere and I just can’t wait. I’m excited, nervous a little bit since it’s the first game of the season. But for the most part I’m excited just to be in that environment especially with these guys who I’m getting really really close to now." 

This being your last year, what’s the most desired outcome as the year plays out?
"Early season I just want to see the younger guys pick up because I know how talented they are with Sa’eed and Mark. I just want to see them do well. And then I want to see us compete non-conference. And once conference time comes I want to handle our business and hopefully I can get a second (Patriot League) ring before I head out of here."

Report Card 2016: Charlie Jones

By Jake Lloyd

THE NUMBERS

Minutes
MPG: 21.7
% Minutes: 53.8

Offense
Points: 4.7 ppg
O-rating: 107.6
E-FG: 58.9%
Two-point shooting: 54%
3-point shooting: 45%
FT shooting: 71%
Turnover rate: 21.9%

Defense
Rebounding: 3.3 rpg
Defensive reb %: 17.8%
Block %: 2.7%

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STRENGTHS
It’s crazy to think that for a couple confusing months in the spring of 2015, we didn’t even know if Charlie Jones would be offered a scholarship for his junior season. Jones is far from the most talented player on the roster nor the most athletic — although he can jump higher than he gets credit for, and his lateral speed defensively is the best on the team — but he does the most things when he’s on the floor. Part of this is a product of Jones being an opponent’s third, fourth or even fifth focus defensively. Still, the numbers bear out that Jones delivers.

And that’s all a coaching staff can ask for.

Jones’ 107.6 O-rating was by far the best of any rotation player last season (the next-highest was 98.1) as was his 54% shooting on two-pointers. Jones’ 45% 3-point shooting (15-33) was second only to Paris Maragkos, and he took twice as many 3s as the big man. All this is good, but it also leads us back to the ever-vexing question with Jones:

Why doesn’t he shoot more?

Jones’ 3.1 FGA per game was eighth out of the eight regular rotation players (Andrija Matic came in next-lowest at 3.2, but he’s a freshman big). Also telling:

%Shots
Paris Maragkos, 32.7%
Jesse Reed, 22.1%
Charlie Jones, 12% (last among regulars)

And…

%Possessions used
Maragkos, 30.8%
Reed, 20.8%
Charlie Jones, 13.1% (last among regulars)

This is all to say that Jones didn’t have a turnover problem, wasn’t a black hole, shot the ball really well, but rarely hoisted. Mike Brennan was repetitive with his remarks during the season that he knew what Jones and Marko Vasic — whose usage numbers were just a tad higher than Jones’ — brought to the table and was pleased with it. He didn’t mention anything about wanting more offense from either.

Interestingly enough, the 6-foot-5 Charlie Jones took most of the tipoffs for AU.

Interestingly enough, the 6-foot-5 Charlie Jones took most of the tipoffs for AU.

Would you like Charlie to take more shots (2-3 vs. Lafayette)?
“Nah, not really — 2-3, that’s pretty good, I’ll take 2-3. I think he’s making the right decisions shooting when he should shoot.”— Mike Brennan, Feb. 17

Still, you have to wonder what would transpire if Jones looked for his shot just a bit more often. It’s also interesting to note that Jones’ usage rates decreased from his sophomore to junior seasons (14.8%/12% of shots; 15%/13.1% possessions). Part of this is no doubt attributable to not having Pee Wee Gardner finding him; the other side of the story is that Brennan and staff essentially decided on who Jones is after two years and what role he serves best, and asked for similar things from the junior (in addition to helping along the freshmen).

On the other end of the court, Jones was clearly American’s best player all year. His 17.8% defensive rebounding rate was second only to Marko Vasic, and his 3.3% steal rate and 2.7% block rate were best on the team. During American’s enormous struggles through January, Jones was the glue keeping the Eagles from completely crumbling. At that time, he was also laying a foundation for a team that was defensively solid by the Patriot League tournament.

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ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Uncharacteristically, Jones was a bit loose with the ball in 2015-16, his turnover rate increasing from 15.1 to 21.9 from the previous season. A summer of continuing to work on his handle, which I’m sure is happening, would be beneficial. Additionally, Jones’ 13.1% assist rate — sixth among the core eight — is not great. For someone who passed as much as he did, more of those dishes should have led to American field goals.

Jones shot only 37% on two-point jumpers. With one of the team’s best pump fakes, Jones would benefit from an improvement in the midrange game. A quicker release on his jumper would also lead to more open attempts.

Overall, Jones’ impact needs to be felt night in and night out. Jones battled some minor aches and pains as a junior that, in part, resulted in four games when he didn’t play double digits. American lost all four games.

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GRADE: B+

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QUOTABLE
“Yeah well he’s confident and he knows that I trust him. He knows that I know he’s doing all he can to win so whether it’s a right decision, wrong decision, good shot, bad shot, I know that he’s always thinking, ‘I gotta do what we need on this possession.’ And now that he’s, he’s a junior now so he’s had a lot of minutes under his belt, he’s getting more comfortable making some decisions like that down the stretch.” — Mike Brennan after Jones made several winning plays vs. Lafayette Feb. 17

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QUICK TAKE
By now, we know what Jones brings to the Eagles. Toughness, defense, rebounding, clutch shooting, and smarts. But can’t he do more? And will he be allowed to do more? That’s unlikely, as American loses 13.9 FGA a game in Reed and Vasic. Expect Delante Jones, James Washington, a much more active Lonnie Rivera, and freshman Sa’eed Nelson, possibly, to take those shots.

Jones will be better because he’s a dogged worker, and his minutes might increase slightly. He’ll often be on the court in late-game situations. And my guess is his leadership, both on the court and on the bench and in huddles, will be as important as his on-game contributions.