On the heels of the most successful season in the history of its men’s basketball program, AU has rewarded head coach Jeff Jones with a new contract.
“In announcing this action, we’re sending a clear message,” President Neil Kerwin said during an Aug. 21 press conference. “We believe in Jeff Jones we have a true leader, a great teacher, and someone who has made outstanding contributions to this institution in every element of its mission. Yes, he brought teams to the Patriot League championship on three occasions prior to this last year, but most importantly he’s recruited young men who understand that their primary responsibility at American University is academic. Our student-athletes have performed consistently in a manner to make us proud.”
Last season Jones took AU to heights never before reached by the men’s basketball team. The Eagles won the Patriot League’s regular season title, and defeated Colgate before a nationally-televised audience to win the conference’s postseason tournament and earn AU its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. A week later in Birmingham, the Eagles put a real scare into second-seeded Tennessee before falling to the Volunteers.
“This past season certainly was an awful lot of fun,” Jones said. “American University has been a great place for me. Back about eight years ago, I remember standing up here and being named the new coach. At that time I didn’t know all the different steps we would go through, but I did know that this was a special place. We’ve come a long way. It’s been slow at times, but we’ve definitely moved things forward. I think the school has made huge strides during that time. All you have to do is walk around campus and see the construction. We’re certainly a school that is on the rise. I know the prospective students we talk to have an awareness of American University in a way that wasn’t there in 2000. I think this is an exciting place and this is an exciting time.”
Expectations are high for this year’s team, which returns seven seniors, including the talented backcourt duo of Derrick Mercer and Garrison Carr.
“The Eagles should run away with the Patriot League,” Bob McClellan wrote on Rivals.com, which ranked AU 65th in the nation in its preseason poll. “Mercer and Carr make them dangerous against anyone. If a third scorer emerges, circle American as a team no one will want to play in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.”
Such lofty predictions demonstrate just how far the program has come under Jones.
“It just continues the momentum,” Director of Athletics and Recreation Keith Gill said of signing Jones to a new contract. “If you look at the quality of kids we have in the program, they’re top notch. When you couple that off the field character with success on the court, that makes for a successful program.”