May 6—FAYETTEVILLE — Tony Jones has left his position as assistant basketball coach at UNC Pembroke, where he is also the former interim head coach, to become head boys basketball coach at Seventy-First High School in Fayetteville.
"It's just the opportunity to be a head coach again, and be closer to home," Jones said. "I'm from Fayetteville, I've always lived in Fayetteville, and I just want to give back to the community, and to these kids. Coaching really hasn't been about the money for me; it's been about developing young men to be contributing citizens in society."
Developing young men is what Jones enjoys about the position, and the Cape Fear alumnus will get to continue doing so with players younger than the ones he's coached with the Braves.
"Recruiting kids and having kids come in to UNCP, I noticed a few of them didn't know how to send a professional email, or didn't know what FAFSA was, or different things like that," Jones said. "I just want to prepare these guys, if we do have college athletes, that they're prepared for college; they know what to expect in practice, they know what to expect in a college setting, and not just develop them off the court, but also on the court."
Jones, a 2015 UNCP alumnus, worked his way up the ladder with the Braves, starting as a manager after an unsuccessful tryout for the team, then becoming an assistant coach under former head coach Ben Miller, and ultimately the interim head coach for the 2019-20 season. Jones led the Braves to a 24-6 record and a Peach Belt Conference regular-season title that season, and returned to an assistant coach's role under head coach Drew Richards for the 2020-21 season.
"Coach Miller saw something in me that I didn't see in myself, and he just gave me a chance," Jones said. "Pembroke is my family; there's no doubt about that ... luckily it's not far from where I'll be at now, so I'll get to visit when I can. But I've got nothing but great memories at Pembroke, and just thankful for the opportunity Coach Miller and Coach Richards presented me.
"I really enjoyed coaching at Pembroke, being the interim head coach last year, and I really got a bug for it. I saw an opportunity that's close to home, and I thought it'd be a great spot for me."
Robeson County fans will still get the chance to see Jones on the sidelines, as Seventy-First will remain a conference opponent for both Lumberton and Purnell Swett for the next four years as part of the NCHSAA's realignment taking effect in the fall.
"I'm just ready to get my hands on these kids and just develop them," Jones said. "I've heard they're a very skilled team, and very young, but that just gives me a chance to mold them and get them ready for college and the real world. I'm super excited to meet them and get to know them a little bit better and build relationships."
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.