Tony Jones, then an assistant coach for Tennessee men’s basketball, had an idea. He wanted to play a game against his good friend, Greg Kampe, and up-and-coming mid-major Oakland. And, boy, did it take a whole lot of selling to his boss, Bruce Pearl.
For good reason, it turned out, as the Golden Grizzlies stunned the then No. 7-ranked Volunteers in December 2010.
“I was the reason the game was made,” Jones said. “Bruce didn’t want to play the game, and then said, ‘See, I told you we shouldn’t have played them!’ ”
Jones, a Detroit native who starred at Southwestern High School, now gets to try to help the Golden Grizzlies stun some more Power-Five opponents. He was named an assistant coach on Kampe’s staff Tuesday, and will make approximately $90,000.
He replaces Cornell Mann, who was an assistant at Oakland for one season before leaving this offseason to take a job at Missouri.
Jones is a long-time Pearl assistant, working under him for 12 years at stops at Milwaukee, Tennessee and, most recently, Auburn.
This is his first job in Michigan since he was a JV coach and assistant varsity coach at Southwestern from 1986-91.
“I’m excited. I’m really excited to come home,” Jones said over the phone from Knoxville, Tenn., where he was having meetings to find a successor to run the Knoxville Basketball Academy. “Obviously, my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews are there, and I still have a lot of friends there.
“I’m looking forward to seeing some of those individuals on a more consistent basis.”
Jones, 57, has been a college basketball coach for 19 years, making eight NCAA Tournament appearances — six of those in his six seasons at Tennessee. He has earned a reputation as one of the better recruiters in the country.
His specialty, though, is working with guards, which he’s done everywhere he’s been. And Oakland’s got some good ones, in Martez Walker, Stevie Clark, Nick Daniels and Kendrick Nunn, who will be eligible in 2017-18 after sitting out a year following his transfer from Illinois.
The Golden Grizzlies under Kampe have been known for their offensive exploits, and that’s always drawn Jones to Kampe.
The two have known each other for more than 20 years, and coached against each other one other time, when Jones was on staff at Toledo.
“We’ve always aspired to work with each other, way back in the day,” Jones said. “I’ve always marveled at his offensive genius as it pertains to basketball structure.
“I look forward to the opportunity of working with him and trying to help maintain the success that he’s established at Oakland.”
Jones’ resume also includes a brief stint as interim head coach of the Windsor Express of the National Basketball League in Canada, after his brother, Bill, was suspended for a season following an altercation during the league finals in 2015.
In other Oakland news, softball coach Connie Miner resigned this week after five seasons on the job and an 83-127-1 record, following a recent meeting with senior associate athletic director Marshall Foley. She was Horizon League coach of the year in 2015 and made the NCAA Regionals that season, and has previously worked as a head coach at Eastern Michigan and UC-Riverside. She made $58,500.