Former Robert Morris guard Jones leaves lasting impression
May 6, 2013 8:00 AM
Velton Jones' college basketball career is over, but the gritty guard left an indelible mark on the Robert Morris program.
By Craig Meyer Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Immersed in one of the toughest years of his life, Velton Jones felt compelled to make a prediction.
Sitting in the office of then-Robert Morris assistant Andy Toole in 2008, Jones browsed through the records section of the team's media guide. He had yet to play a minute of college basketball, but saw himself in those pages as part of an improving program.
"Coach Toole, I guarantee you I will be in this book," he said.
That wasn't ego talking, either. But it was a sign of what was to come.
Less than five years later, Jones is leaving Robert Morris as one of the most-decorated players in program history, one who has a strong chance to play professionally.
He is second on the Colonials' list in career assists (551), fifth in points (1,588) and third in total minutes (3,686), many of which were spent showing an almost blatant disregard for his own well-being as long as the team won -- which it mostly did while he was there, winning 91 games and going 54-18 in conference play.
"[He is] one of the best for sure," Toole said. "I think there have been some other really good players that have been in our program over the years, but I think he's going to rank up there with a special group of guys."
The player Jones became at Robert Morris -- a talented and tenacious bulldog of a point guard -- was molded by where he came from.
Only the strong survive in North Philadelphia, several tattoos on Jones' body proclaim, and he is a testament to that reality.
"You see everything," Jones said. "I've seen it all, been through it all. I don't think people get that. I've been through the biggest adversity you can get through."
He led Simon Gratz and later Northeast Catholic to city titles, becoming the only player to do so in Philadelphia's public and Catholic leagues. By his senior year, he became the first Northeast Catholic player in 30 years to get a Division I athletic scholarship.
"He had an instinctive ability to will his team to win," Northeast Catholic coach Mike McCarron said. "I've never seen anything like that."
Adversity followed Jones to Robert Morris, where he was declared a partial qualifier by the NCAA in 2008, forcing him to sit out what would have been his freshman season. Soon after, his father, Ronald Jones, died from stomach cancer.
Jones fought through those challenges to make an immediate impact his first two seasons and rose to stardom by his third.
After leading the team as a junior, Jones' scoring took a dip in what turned out to be an injury-plagued senior season. Gone was the high-volume shooter and scorer, the aftermath of a midseason concussion and lingering shoulder injury. But from that sprung a different offensive threat.
He averaged a career high in assists per game and became the primary facilitator on a team that had six players average more than eight points per game. As frustrating as the injuries were, the Colonials were better with Jones, capturing their first outright regular-season Northeast Conference title in four years.
"Any other player would have just sat out, but it was my senior year, and the thing about Robert Morris is we're all brothers on and off the court," Jones said. "They saw that I wasn't going to stop fighting with them, and that brought us together even more."
While Jones' numbers are impressive, his game is defined more by intangibles. Most notably toughness, which he attributes to his mother, Patricia Bryant, who is battling lung cancer for the second time.
Upon graduating, Jones will look to play professionally here or abroad. There has been interest from NBA teams such as the Charlotte Bobcats in the form of questionnaires and exploratory phone calls. From these inquiries, the hope is he could get workouts and potentially a training camp invite.
His destination is uncertain, but it's clear Jones won't fade into obscurity at Robert Morris. In media guides for years to come, his face will be there -- just like he imagined it all along.
"I think you can see he really left it on the floor," Toole said. "That's what you want to have out of great players."