RMU seniors Jones, Johnson still have much to accomplish
February 23, 2013 5:00 AM
Robert Morris senior forward Russell Johnson, along with fellow senior Velton Jones, will be honored tonight against Fairleigh Dickinson, but they hope their careers are far from complete.
By Craig Meyer Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There's a remarkable parallel between the respective career arcs of Velton Jones and Russell Johnson.
The two played at high schools separated by a 20-mile stretch of I-95 running along the Delaware River from Philadelphia to Chester.
They both decided to play at Robert Morris and, after sitting out their first season, have been major contributors.
Tonight against Fairleigh Dickinson, they will be honored together at their final regular-season home game.
"It's surreal," Jones said. "I had a good time here and did a lot of good things.
"Everything has to come to an end sometimes, right?"
After graduating from strong Philadelphia-area programs Northeast Catholic and Chester, Jones and Johnson arrived at Robert Morris together, but had to sit out their first year after being declared as partial qualifiers by the NCAA.
Since then, they have been among the Colonials' best players each of the past four seasons.
Jones has been a tough-minded leader at point guard while scoring in double figures each of the past three seasons, peaking with a team-high 16 points per game last season.
Johnson, too, has been among the team's leading scorers over his career and played some of his best basketball lately, averaging 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds over the past 13 games.
But beyond the individual statistics comes the pair's biggest accomplishment -- their overall contributions to the Colonials in one of the school's most successful stretches in men's basketball.
Robert Morris (19-9, 11-4 Northeast Conference) vs. Fairleigh Dickinson (7-21, 2-13), 7 p.m. today, Sewall Center.
WPIT-AM (730), rmucolonials.com.
Coming off 77-65 victory vs. Monmouth. ... Has won 11 of past 13 games, with the first victory coming against Fairleigh Dickinson Jan. 10. ... Outrebounded Fairleigh Dickinson, 33-18, in previous meeting. ... G Velton Jones' playing status is uncertain because of a shoulder injury.
Coming off 69-63 loss at Saint Francis. ... Has lost 12 consecutive games, a streak that dates to Jan. 14. ... Has been eliminated from NEC tournament contention. ... F Kinu Rochford leads team in scoring (14.9 points per game) and rebounding (9.3 rebounds per game) and has recorded double-doubles in two of the past three games.
Only 41.7 percent of Robert Morris' points have come on 2-pointers, the third-lowest mark among Division I teams.
Over the past four seasons, the Colonials have gone 86-46, including a 51-18 mark in the Northeast Conference.
Both players are quick to acknowledge that as the major part of their legacy.
"I wanted to come here and help a lower major school become a mid-major and do some big things," Jones said. "I think me and Russ have helped do that. It's nice to know you can be able to help a program do things and have so much success."
There is a third component of the bond, coach Andy Toole, who arrived as an assistant at Robert Morris in 2007 and recruited Jones.
When Toole took over as head coach after Mike Rice went to Rutgers in 2010, he helped convince them to stay.
Such loyalty has paid off, and Toole said it won't be soon forgotten.
"It's really hard to measure the impact those guys have had, not only on the program, but on the campus, on Robert Morris University as a whole," Toole said.
"A lot of people, when they think of the basketball program, they think of Velton and they think of Russell."
But, as Toole noted, there is something strange about senior night, which also will honor Treadwell Lewis and Shane Sweigart.
It's an occasion meant to reminisce and honor the players' legacy, even though their college basketball careers are incomplete.
Time remains for Jones and Johnson to lead their team back to the NCAA tournament.
That effectively would bookend their careers because they appeared in the tournament their first two seasons with the Colonials.
"We know what it takes to get there," Johnson said. "We try to help guys and try to relate to guys and let them know how hard it is.
"We let them know what can be done to help us get to where we've got to get."