Brian Jones is entering his seventh season as the head coach of the North Dakota men’s basketball program. He takes his club into its inaugural season in the Big Sky Conference on the heels of a pair of Great West Conference Tournament titles and CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament appearances.
The 2011-12 season saw Jones’ team post 17 wins and finish strong down the stretch once again, which is becoming a trademark of a team that will return four starters and eight of its top nine scorers. His unit went 6-4 to finish second in the team’s final season of play in the GWC.
Sophomore Troy Huff was named a second team all-league performer for the second straight season and classmate Jamal Webb captured GWC Tournament MVP honors. Huff was joined on the all-league squad by senior Patrick Mitchell, who finished his career as one of the program’s all-time leaders in blocked shots and 3-pointers made.
Huff also earned a spot on the All-GWC Tournament Team after his squad belted NJIT 75-60 in the final. The team advanced to the CIT for the second straight season, but fell once again in the first round -- this time at Drake, 70-64.
The Green and White treated their home fans to 13 wins in 14 tries, including an 88-81 overtime victory against eventual Big Sky champion Montana. UND also thrilled its patrons with a 59-54 victory over rival NDSU in the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
In 2010-11, he led his club to 19 wins and the 2011 Great West Conference Tournament title last year. The club also earned the program’s first Division I postseason berth in the CollegeInsiders.com Postseason Tournament, where UND played at Air Force in the opening round.
The 11-game turnaround from the season before was the third-best in UND history as freshman guard Troy Huff broke the school’s rooking scoring mark with 452 points and earned All-Great West Second Team honors. Junior Patrick Mitchell earned GWC Tournament MVP honors after leading third-seeded UND to a trio of wins by a combined four points.
The first year in the Great West saw UND finish in a tie for third in the inaugural league standings with a 5-7 record in 2009-10. Senior Travis Bledsoe ranked second in the Great West in scoring with a 15.5 ppg average and also ranked second in league games with a 21.1 ppg clip en route to earning first team All-Great West honors. Junior Derek Benter was named to the GWC All-Academic Team for the second straight season as well.
Facing a full DI schedule for the first time, UND managed to post six wins against schools from that level, a two-game improvement from the previous season.
Despite playing as an independent in 2008-09, which was the team’s first at the DI level, the Great West still delegated weekly and yearly awards for the seven teams that made up the inaugural men’s basketball league. Senior Daniel Harkins, junior Dustin Monsebroten and sophomore Derek Benter earned all-academic honors, while senior forward O.J. Harrison was named Great West Player of the Week on two occasions.
With six freshmen waiting in the wings taking a redshirt season, a veteran squad closed out the campaign by winning five of its last six contests to improve the team’s win total for the third straight year. Four of those victories came over DI teams, proving UND could compete with teams at that level across the country.
In 2007-08, Jones guided UND on a memorable playoff run, leading the team to the North Central Conference championship game for the first time since 2002. UND finished the season with a 15-15 record, a four-win improvement from the previous season and the program’s most wins in three years. Under the tutelage of Jones, senior forward Emmanuel Little earned All-NCC honors for the second straight season.
UND also enjoyed a highly successful year in the classroom, with a school-record and league-high four players earning Academic All-NCC accolades: seniors Josh Doyle, Jimmy Hoy and Tyler Koenig and freshman Derek Benter. Those same four were also named to the NCC Commissioner’s Academic Honor Roll, also the most in the conference.
In 2006-07, Jones’ first as a collegiate head coach, UND went 11-17 overall and showed marked improvement throughout the entire year. That continued growth and renewed optimism was reflected in the stands of the Betty Engelstad Sioux Center, where UND averaged more than 2,000 fans per game to rank 14th in NCAA Division II men’s basketball.
Jones, who prior to UND most recently served as an assistant coach at the University of Iowa, is the 18th head coach in the history of the program and just the third in the last 36 years.
Jones, a Rock Island, Ill., native, came to UND after spending the previous seven seasons as an assistant on Steve Alford’s staff at Iowa. He spent the last five seasons of his tenure as an assistant coach after serving as administrative assistant coach in his first two years with the Hawkeyes.
During Jones’ five years as assistant coach, the Hawkeyes went 98-64 (.605), received three NCAA Tournament invitations and won a pair of Big Ten tournament titles. In 2005-06, Jones helped lead Iowa to a 25-9 record, the second-most wins in school history, and the first undefeated (17-0) home record in the history of the program.
While at Iowa, Jones guided seven All-Big Ten selections, 17 Academic All-Big Ten selections and four Academic All-Americans. Jones also helped tutor four of the last five Big Ten rebounding champions, three straight conference leaders in blocked shots and the league’s 2005-06 defensive player of the year. Three of his student-athletes reached the National Basketball Association (NBA) and two from the 2005-06 Hawkeye team have been invited to NBA camps.
Prior to arriving at Iowa, Jones spent the 1998-99 season under Alford as administrative assistant coach at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State), where he helped lead the Bears to an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance and a top-20 national ranking.
No stranger to the North Central Conference, Jones was an assistant coach at the University of Nebraska-Omaha from 1996 to 1998 and recruited many of the players who would go on to lead the Mavericks to back-to-back conference titles. Jones’ first coaching stint came at Alleman High School in Rock Island, Ill., where he was an assistant for two seasons.
Jones was a four-year letterman as a guard/forward at Northern Iowa and went on to play professional basketball in Australia and Portugal. He was a two-time, all-state selection as a prep at Rock Island High School.
Jones earned his bachelor’s degree in communications and broadcasting from Northern Iowa in 1994 and his master’s degree in athletic administration from Nebraska-Omaha in 2003. He and his wife, Danna, have three children: sons Jaxson (8) and Jonah (4) and daughter Jersey (6).
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Years at UND: 6