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Familiar face Jeff Jones getting Old Dominion ready for Virginia Tech

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Jeff Jones faced Virginia Tech eight times when he was Virginia’s men’s basketball coach.

He faced the Hokies once when he was American’s coach.

Now, 20 years after that American loss at Tech, Jeff Jones will be coaching against the Hokies once again.

Jones is in his 10th season at the helm of Old Dominion, which will meet the Hokies at 2 p.m. Thursday in the first round of the Charleston Classic.

He also had long runs at his previous two head-coaching stops, spending eight seasons at UVa before resigning under pressure and guiding American for 13 seasons before leaving for ODU.

“I’ve never been one that really believes in jumping around a whole lot,” he said Tuesday in a phone interview. “I spent 20 years at UVa all in all [as a player, assistant and head coach] and made a home at American and could have seen myself finishing my career there, but the opportunity for a new challenge and to go to Old Dominion, … it was just the right time.

“We’ve loved it at ODU.”

Jones’ staff no longer includes former Hokies women’s basketball coach Dennis Wolff, who served as Jones’ director of basketball operations for five seasons before retiring in 2021. Wolff still lives in Norfolk and recently filled in as the analyst on a few of ODU’s radio broadcasts.

Has Jones, 62, begun thinking yet about when it will be time for him to retire?

“I want to keep doing it as long as it’s fun and as long as I’m still excited — and I know I really was this year,” said Jones, whose team is coming off a losing season. “Last year with the record and everything, and I had some health issues — I had pneumonia for about eight weeks — it was a challenge. But once I got healthy, I couldn’t wait to get started and get back and have workouts and practices.

“No doubt I’m on the back nine, if you will, but I’m excited to have the opportunity to continue doing this.”

Jones is 540-401 with eight NCAA Tournament bids in 31 seasons as a head coach.

He is 183-114 with one NCAA tournament bid, one NIT berth one CBI bid and one CIT berth at Old Dominion.

The Monarchs are 2-1 this year. They beat Maryland Eastern-Shore and NCAA Division III member Virginia Wesleyan but lost at Drexel.

This will be ODU’s first meeting with Tech since December 2007, when Blaine Taylor was the ODU coach and Seth Greenberg was coaching the Hokies.

The Hokies, now in their fourth season being coached by Mike Young, are off to a 3-0 start.

“They’re so versatile, particularly from an offensive perspective,” Jones said. “Any Mike-Young-coached team is going to be extremely well-coached. … He’s a coach’s coach. Nobody’s paid their dues any more than him. I was happy to see him get the job, and his success at Tech comes as no surprise to me.

“We’ve got to … try to figure out a way to slow them down.”

Old Dominion was 13-19 overall and 8-10 in Conference USA last year. This will be the team’s first season in the Sun Belt Conference.

“Last year was really a struggle and hopefully we can bounce back and get the … team back to where we want it,” Jones said. “We lost some good players from last year’s team, … but overall there’s more balance in terms of the talent. We’re more athletic. We’re deeper. … This team is more willing to listen.”

Jones had to replace four starters from last year’s team. ODU has eight newcomers, including Xavier graduate transfer Ben Stanley (17.3 ppg) and Northeastern graduate transfer Tyreek Scott-Grayson (11 ppg).

“We’re making progress [in jelling], but we still have a ways to go,” Jones said. “We’re playing nine guys. … Our strength is in our numbers. We don’t have any real stars, but I think we’ve got eight or nine good players.

“Trying to find our identity offensively is really kind of where a majority of our focus is right now. … We really are at our best when we’re able to defensively kind of fly around, play with a lot of energy and turn that into offense. But too many times, … we’ll have the start of a good possession but something breaks down.

“Our margin of error is such that we can’t afford to make many mental errors.”

The team’s strong suit so far has been offensive rebounding.

“That also means we’re missing a lot of shots,” Jones said.

As a UVa player, Jones helped the Cavaliers win the 1980 NIT title and reach the 1981 NCAA Final Four. As a UVa head coach, he won 146 games.

He had a “tough day” Monday because of the fatal shootings of Virginia football players D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler on Sunday night.

“I spent some time on a group text with 20-some coaches and former players at UVa. Everyone was expressing their condolences, the sadness, the shock, the anger,” Jones said. “It’s senseless. And it’s something that our society and our country, we have to do a better job.”

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Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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