Catching up with Herb Jones
My original intention Wednesday night was to interview Anthony McClain, as he was on the floor with Deonta Vaughn's Superiorcars.com team. However, after watching them lose to an OHC team led by Xavier's C.J. Anderson and Dayton's Norm Plummer, I was unable to catch up with him. So as any good writer does I went looking for another story.
Then, along came Jones....
Herb Jones, of Final Four fame. Now, there's a Bearcat!
Apparently, Herb had played in the first game while I was still home trying to feed my younger kids some spaghetti. So, while I'm playing "Chef Boy-R-Dee" Herb Jones is on the Woodward gym floor with guys half his age!
While I didn't see it, I did play "catch-up" with the 38-year-old small forward who has aged in his face, but still has pretty much the same build.
"I'm out here staying in shape with Cincinnati State and Coach (Andre) Tate," Jones told me. "I'm helping his players, trying to show them how to get in the right position and how to finish games, stuff like that. I'm over there playing with them, working them out—helping them go to the next level—Division I or whatever."
If any of Tate's men can reach Herb Jones numbers, they'll without question move to the next level. Jones led UC in scoring and rebounding in the '90/'91 and '91/'92 seasons. Over two years, he averaged roughly 17 points per game and seven rebounds (not bad for a guy that was generously listed at 6-4). And, he was the Bearcats' leading three-point shooter during that Final Four year hitting over 41%.
While many his age are limited to spectating at the Deveroes League, Herb Jones is running the court with teenagers.
"I'm just playing in this league here and there's another league in Columbus that I'm playing in," he said. "I stopped playing (professionally) about five years ago. The last team I played for was in Portugal. It was a good run, I can't complain. I got to play ball for money—a lot of people don't get to do that—I got to see different parts of the world—I have no complaints."
The last time I saw Herb Jones play in the summer league was back in the sweatbox off Hackberry Street—the oven that is Purcell-Marian's gym. It probably was back when a lot of the Final Four guys would still show up near the end of the tournament, regroup and then put on a show in front of frantic, perspiring fans packed in like sardines.
"It's night and day playing in here," Jones said of the air-conditioned Woodward gym. "Purcell had the stink about it—hot gym, sweaty—there's nothing wrong with A/C. (We've) graduated, that's all!"
On this night, the only sweating is coming from those still outside in the humidity. When I saw Jones, he was showered and decked out in a red, UC football jersey. (#8—Gino sends his love.)
"I'm always going to wear the colors," Jones said. "I go over to Cincinnati and play with the guys. Hopefully, we can get a good, solid team with Vaughn and them coming back and get in the '64' this year and do some playing."
Like he is with Andre Tate's Cincinnati State players, Jones is also passing on his life experiences to some of the new Bearcats, like Cashmere Wright.
"I was talking to Cashmere," Jones explained to me. "I was telling him, 'You had an injury, you've got to gradually get it back, it's not going to come back now. Slowly work your way back and you'll get it back.' He might be a half-second slower, but eventually when he starts playing, he'll start getting it back."
In Herb's two seasons at UC, his team was blessed to not have any long, sustaining injuries like what happened with Wright. The one question I've asked most of those Final Four guys over the years is, "What made you guys so special?"
The answer, nearly always, is the same....
"Corie (Blount) Nick (Van Exel) and me always talked," Jones said. "They played in the NBA, I played in Europe. They (people) always say that team was one of the best teams as far as getting along. People knew their roles. Now, you're older and you can look back...with that team, we didn't care, we just wanted to win. If it was someone's night to be hot, you give them the ball and you don't worry about it. We knew if somebody was hot—give them the ball! If it's somebody's night, it's somebody's night."
Jones continued, "The way we played, we didn't worry. If a team beat us, we wanted to see that team again. It was a special group of guys."
And, of all of the recruits that have entered The Shoe/Fifth Third Arena, former Coach Bob Huggins has repeatedly said it all started with the recruitment of Herbert Jones out of the junior college ranks.
"When they recruited me, they got me to come," Jones recalled. "I knew the history of Cincinnati and Oscar Robertson and all that. I said, 'Cincinnati? Alright.' I had the opportunity to go to any school I wanted to go to, but I chose Cincinnati and it was a good choice. We got to the Final Four. I was a little down my junior year—I felt we should've made the tournament and we lost—but I came back my senior year and I swore, 'I'm going to the tournament!' We recruited the right guys, the chemistry came and it all came together."
Naturally, one wonders when the "stars will be aligned" for such an occurrence again.
"Honestly...I can be real with you...it's not that easy to make it to the Final Four," Jones said.
"You've got to have some luck. You've got to have some players willing to sacrifice and play together. Hopefully, they can make a run like that. But, it's a lot of luck. You think of all the players who didn't make it to the Final Four. LSU had Shaquille O'Neal, Stanley Robinson, they had Chris Jackson—come on, on paper that team should've walked to the Final Four. They never made it. You need some luck. You get in a bracket, a team beats this team, you slide in and you win—it's a lot of luck!"
Jones makes a good point.
In UC's fortuitous run in '92, they opened with a win over Delaware (in Dayton) and then drew a team they had played earlier in Michigan State. After beating the Spartans, it appeared to most that UC would play Kansas, but the Jayhawks were upset by UTEP. That gave UC a better "match-up" with Texas El-Paso and eventually set them up for an Elite Eight game with Memphis (whom they had beaten three teams and walloped in the fourth to head to Minneapolis).
As I mentioned earlier, Herb was sporting a UC football jersey after his game, so I asked him how much he followed Brian Kelly's men. Turns out, quite a bit....
"I've always kept up with the football team," Jones said. "We're doing real good at football right now. Hopefully, we can keep it up."
Not only is Jones a fan, he also knows personally former Bearcat/now Cowboy DeAngelo Smith.
"He's from Columbus, Ohio," said Jones. "I watched him grow up. He got drafted by Dallas. I was telling a friend maybe a year and a half ago, I said, 'Hey, DeAngelo's got it—he's a pro!' He was disciplined off the field, disciplined with the books, to me—that's a professional athlete. You've got to handle yourself on the field, and off the field. That's the most important thing...off the field. People are always going to watch you when you step away from the game and see what you're doing. He (DeAngelo) is a good kid. Hopefully, he'll make that team—I believe he will make that team."
More good insight from the 38-year-old who first set foot in the Tri-State 19 years ago.
If you want to watch Herb Jones play a little and tutor some youngsters in the process, he's playing with the S.I. Pool Care team. They're back on the floor this weekend and next Wednesday.