You can always find him in early June, or mid-July, or late August outside some gym, somewhere in the Philadelphia area, always with the beads of sweat on his forehead, as he unpacks the back of his car with the fishnet bag filled with basketballs. He seems ubiquitous in Philly hoop circles. Call him a basketball lifer who loves the game regardless of the level.
But mostly, you'll find Clyde Jones surrounded by kids, his kids), whether he's the one coaching them in some summer league, or sitting in the stands watching them. It's this attitude, this dedication that has made Jones one of the Philadelphia area's most successful coaches of the last 10 years, and the architect of what it is one of the premier high school basketball programs in Pennsylvania at Penn Wood.
The Patriots won their first-ever PIAA Class AAAA state championship last year, with a school-record for victories in a season by going 28-4 overall. The reason is the dapper-dressed coach with the cool veneer who pays constant attention to detail.
"We wouldn't have gotten to the state championship without him," said Duane Johnson, now starring as a freshman at East Stroudsburg. "Coach Jones really is the one who put this all together. I remember my sophomore year when he came in, when we had guys show up to practice whenever they felt like it, and some had attitudes that they were the stars. Coach Jones didn't put up with that. He helped my game and now I have a state championship to thank him for."
It's an interesting path, however, that led Jones to where he is today. He actually started his high school coaching career as a volunteer assistant football coach at Harriton in the mid-1990s.
"I had a friend there, Derek Thomas, who mentioned a coaching opening there for [JV] basketball and I told him to let them know I was interested," recalled Jones, an Overbrook graduate who got his coaching start in the Sonny Hill League. "That's what got me started. Nick Settani, Harriton's AD at the time, gave me the chance to coach the varsity a few years later when that positioned opened."
Jones has won everywhere he has coached. He compiled a 31-9 mark in 2 years with Harriton's junior-varsity program, then turned the Rams' varsity program over, winning their first District 1 Class AAA title in the 2002-03 season, going a school-record 25-5 and reaching the state quarterfinals. In 6 years, he went 111-56, before he received a call in the fall of 2005 from a friend, Rap Curry, the former Saint Joseph's star who became the new athletic director at Penn Wood.
"Rap made some compelling points why I should come to Penn Wood," Jones said. "It was difficult, because I was so committed to the kids at Harriton. It's probably one of the toughest things I ever had to do the day I told those kids I was leaving. I had a nice situation at Harriton. Those kids were willing to run through a brick wall for you if you asked them."
Penn Wood was different. The Pats had not been very good for some time; not since Curry starred for them in the early-1990s. Now Penn Wood was a third wheel, behind Chester and Glen Mills in the Del Val League, arguably the state's best high school basketball league.
Jones had to throw seven players off the team that year, because they weren't his kind of players: on time for practice, respectful on and off the court, being unselfish.
"I wanted to set a foundation and a tone right then and there," Jones said. "There was a lot of trial-and-error that went on that first season. I wondered what I got myself into and I'd tell Rap that same thing, 'What the hell did you get me into.'"
Now Jones is surrounded by a team full of players who are just like him - committed. He's kept most of the talent that's blossomed in the Yeadon and Darby areas home. He still runs his open gyms, still gets amazing cooperation from his wife, Leniece, and he's still winning.
"It's why I call coach Jones the orchestrator, the man never sleeps," Penn Wood star point guard Tyree Johnson said. "He's always about us. We won the state title last year, and it wasn't easy. There were some times when I didn't make things too easy on him. But coach Jones was the glue. He kept it all together, and taught us sharing the ball and being unselfish was going to get us where we had to go."
In a week, the hard part begins - defending the state championship.
"We have a bull's eye on our backs from the whole state and we know it," Johnson said. "But I'm not worried. We got coach Jones on the bench."i
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