On the Clock: Basketball coach keeps his boys and himself in the game
Tim Jones stood behind a row of chairs — the home bench — on the floor of the Amsterdam High School gymnasium.
It was shortly before 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Jones watched as the Amsterdam freshman boys basketball team built a second half lead against Catholic Central of Troy.
Maybe it was a good omen. Jones would coach Amsterdam’s junior varsity boys team against the purple-wearing visitors in a game scheduled to tip at 6.
Jones, 30, is in his first year as JV coach. The Amsterdam resident is a physical education teacher and the aquatics director at Amsterdam Middle School. He has taught and coached in the district for the past six years and had spent the past two years as girls junior varsity coach.
Basketball is a preference. The 6-foot-4 Jones played at Johnstown High School and graduated in 2000. He also played a year at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in 2000-2001. Injuries ended his competitive days on the floor.
Getting the guys ready
He competes from the sidelines now. At 5:25, he sat in a small office off the gym floor and waited for his team to arrive. He appreciates the enthusiasm his 12 sophomores and one freshman provide on practice and game days. He also appreciates working with boys varsity coach Tony Orapello — his former coach at Fulton-Montgomery — and Matt Vasilow and Eric Duemler, who coach the junior varsity girls and varsity girls, respectively.
Jones’ JV players walked through the office just after 5:30. They were already wearing their gray sweatshirts over white uniforms with deep purple numbers on the backs and deep purple trim on the sides of their tunics and shorts. A couple of guys wore tight leggings. Some of the kids greeted their coach.
The JV was 7-3, and one of the losses came at Catholic Central on Dec. 4. Jones reminded his team about that game when he delivered a quick pep talk in the Running Rams’ locker room.
“Number 11 dropped 22 on us. And that number 10 had three threes,” Jones said, aware that Catholic Central’s Matt Scarlet and Jeremy Glazer were formidable scoring threats. “No one else really did anything else until the end of the game.”
Jones told his team that effort was the key component. A quick start, good defense and no open shots were other parts of the plan.
“You don’t need me to tell you what to do,” Jones said, wrapping up his pregame. “You guys know what to do.”
The guys huddled around their coach, arms and clenched fists were all raised together. “Hard work, on three,” Jones said. The guards, centers and forwards all joined their coach in the chant “One-two-three — hard work!”
Onto the court
The team walked briskly out of the locker room, with Jones following. The coach noticed that his sophomore guard-forward James Valentin had wrapped his hands. “You look more like a wrestler than a basketball player,” he joked.
The freshman game ended at 5:38, Amsterdam winning 67-56. Mike Del Santo of Amsterdam left the scorer’s table, where he had operated the 35-second shot clock and lit the possession arrows. He greeted Jones.
“Go get ’em, coach,” Del Santo said.
“How you doing?” Jones answered.
“Hanging in,” responded Del Santo.
Jones watched his guys begin their warm-ups, as hip-hop artist MGK’s “Wild Boy” thumped in the background. Jones said players chose the music; the coach approved the tune after making sure the lyrics weren’t too spicy.
“The music I’d warm up to would be a little different than the music they warm up to,” he said as he watched both teams run traditional layup, rebounding and shooting drills.
The 15-minute period ticked down. Jones admitted that the anxious, nervous feeling athletes describe as “butterflies in the stomach” also hits coaches. “If you don’t get them, you get a little worried,” he said.
At 5:48 p.m., team co-captain Devin Dzikowicz met the referees and players from Catholic Central at midcourt. Co-captain Anferny Aponte did not make the meeting; he had been one of the players wearing leggings, and the refs were not going to allow such fashion statements during the game. Aponte and some teammates had to take them off.
At 5:52, there was a minute left in the warm-up period. Jones brought his team to the bench for final instructions. “Come on, let’s go,” he said. “We know what we want to do, now let’s do it!”
Team and coach huddled closer. “Hard work, on three,” Jones said. “One-two-three — hard work!”
Amsterdam would shoot at the far basket for the first half. Catholic Central would shoot at the hoop in front of the Amsterdam bench.
At 5:57, the first eight-minute quarter started. Seventy seconds later, Jemal Robinson, the team’s tallest player, passed to Mike Sollecito under the basket for the game’s first score.
The teams traded baskets. A Catholic Central shot was off the mark, and Robinson could not come up with the rebound. Jones wanted a little more effort from his big man.
“Go get the ball!” he said, as Robinson gave his coach an inquisitive look. “Yes — you!,” the coach continued. “You go get it!”
The teams were tied 5-5 when freshman guard Kory Bergh — standing on the right wing — threw a two-handed, over-the-head pass toward the basket. The line drive was too high for a defending player, but just high enough for the basket. The ball made a hard skip over the rim and zipped through the net, an odd, three-point score for the Rams.
Jones knows all the coaching moves and shouts. He arched his back on several Amsterdam shots, hoping body English would help the basketball through the net.
“Go! Go! Grab it,” he said, as players converged for a rebound. “Long!” he said, as a player took a shot that would bounce off the rim. “Hustle back!”
Both teams were running. But Catholic Central committed a bunch of fouls and turnovers. Amsterdam led at the end of the quarter, 19-12.
There was a quick break between quarters, and Jones gathered his players. Wrestler-basketballer Valentin grabbed a drink from the Gatorade jug behind the bench. “Am I out?” he quickly asked Jones. “No! You’re in — get over here!” the coach responded.
Jones reminded his players to keep their hands out, to obstruct the Crusaders’ passing lanes. There had been several tips. “You’re getting your hands on the ball,” he said. “Intensity, on three. One-two-three — intensity!”
At 6:10 p.m. the second quarter began. Jones stood in front of his bench players, never sitting down. He occasionally crouched and watched the action closer to floor level. With a couple minutes gone, Valentin got into trouble at the top of the key. He had the ball, and it looked like he might lose possession. Jones called time out.
“You’re dribbling too much,” he told his guard. “Let’s get into some of the offenses that we run.”
The offense clicked, and Amsterdam led 25-12 with 3:52 left. It was 6:15 p.m.
Catholic Central was still in the game, and trailed 34-23 as halftime approached. A Crusader was fouled and received two foul shots. The first one went in.
“We have to have this rebound,” Jones told his players, now near the home bench. There was no rebound — the second shot was good. The half ended 34-25, Amsterdam.
The kids all hustled into the locker room. Jones told them they had 16 more minutes left.
“We need to finish, and we all know that we will finish,” he said. “Expect them to make a couple changes. There are no changes for you. You finish, you get up and down the court, you must rebound. Don’t give them those extra shots. . . . Get out on their shooters and play the game that you’re playing. We’re sitting here talking. In 16 minutes, you’re happy. Got it? Let’s go.”
The second half started at 6:30, and things sort of went Jones’ way. It was 47-33, Rams, after three quarters.
Catholic Central rallied in the fourth quarter, got to within a few points and gave Jones some anxiety. But the purple gang fizzled.
Amsterdam won, 64-51, sending 13 players, a couple of dozen fans and one coach home happy.
“On the Clock” profiles people at work in the Capital Region by spending one hour with them on the job. Nominate a friend or co-worker by contacting Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at email@example.com.