Jim Jones: A Coach for the Ages

There was something ancient and communal about small-town Indiana high school basketball in the 1960s though the 1970s, a rite of passage for young male players who turned their lives over to a tribal chieftain in the form of a coach, a wise elder who instructed his naive charges in the art and the science of basketball. Later, as older men, many of these players would come to understand the impact of these coaches on their lives.

Larry Bird credits one man in particular as being his most important teacher when it came to developing his fundamental basketball playing skills. “He taught me every basic maneuver there is,” Bird noted in his autobiography, Drive. But there would be many, many other players who benefited over the years from this Indiana high school basketball coach’s time at Springs Valley High School.

The game was good for Coach as well. Jim Jones would capture five sectional crowns and a regional trophy in his eleven years as head basketball coach at Springs Valley High School.

Larry Bird, at the beginning of his sophomore year, behind Coach Jones.

Two things were always constant in Jones’ coaching. Jim was highly respected by other coaches in the region, well known for his ability, whatever his teams’ regular season records, of having the Blackhawks ready for sectional play. “To me,” Coach Jones recalled in an interview, “the regular season games were exhibition contests that helped us prepare for the state tournament. I did not mind losing a few games in a season if we learned something that we could work on to get better.”  The other thing that Jim Jones did so well was instilling the fundamentals of basketball in his players, whatever their age level.

A prime example of Coach Jim Jones’ strategy of using regular season games to prepare for state tourney play.

Coach Jones broke down all aspects of the game. There was, for example, his “ten ways to shoot a layup, and thus a shot for every occasion.” He also preached to his players the essential need to work hard on being able to go to the left or right when dribbling to the basket, this skill giving the offensive player an advantage over the defender, “making the defender uncomfortable rather than the other way around and putting the offensive player in control.” Jones also worked to know his teams’ strengths and weaknesses and those of his opponents. If the other team had a greater number of strong players, his team “had to hide,” that is, slow down the game and work on lots of good passing, taking only good shots and making few mistakes. In the end, however, Jones knew that success came not so much from how hard one played in a game as from the intensity a player was putting into practice sessions and at working at shooting skills while not in school.  

Despite these talents, Coach Jones’ basketball journey at Springs Valley would have its ups and downs.

Jim Jones began his life in the little town of Owensburg, Indiana, in the eastern hills of Greene County. When Owensburg High School closed around 1948, the Owensburg kids were sent to Oolitic. By his sophomore year, Jones was starting on the Bearcats junior varsity squad, and in his junior season he played sixth man and sometimes started for an Oolitic team that won a sectional, a very rare occasion in the sectional dominated by big school Bedford teams.

Jim Jones, front row, number 54.

In the fall of 1959, Jim, an Indiana University graduate, was hired at Springs Valley to teach business classes and coach the eighth-grade basketball team. He was also made the school’s basketball scorekeeper. An early picture of Jim Jones in the faculty section of the Springs Valley school yearbook shows a boyish-looking man wearing a big smile, a smile that suggested he was there for the students. But that same big smile belied the intensity Jones brought to his practices.  

Yet, from the very beginning, Jones did not ride players or holler at them. He truly enjoyed helping youth of all ages become good at the game, having started and worked in a Biddy Basketball program in the Valley area for young grade school kids. He was someone who easily became a positive father figure for any boys who were missing out on having a strong and helpful older male in their lives.

During Jones’ first three years at Valley, Jim moved quickly through the coaching ranks, from eighth-grade and freshman basketball coach to the assistant varsity position in the 1961–1962 season under Rex Wells. The fact that Jones had more responsibilities than most assistants can be seen in a Springs Valley Herald article just before the 1961–1962 season began, the report noting that Jim was “using calisthenics and drills, emphasizing various fundamentals to round the charges into playing condition.”

While a great tactician during a game, Coach Jones believed games were most often won preparing for games in practices.

As eighth-grade coach of the “Little Hawks,” Jim Jones was able to come up with a great record, an 18-2 run. That year his young charges beat an exceptional Jasper eighth-grade team in the regular season. Valley then went on to sweep through the prestigious sixteen-team Jasper Grade School Tournament, the sixteen-team Loogootee Grade School Tournament, and the Orange County Grade School Tournament.                 

Jones became head coach at Springs Valley in the 1962-1963 season. It was a tough year, his team achieving just a 6-14 regular season record.  Jones and his players, however, caught a bit of lightning in a jar in the Huntingburg sectional, making it to the final game before losing 20-19 to an Ireland Spud squad that went on to advance to the semi-state. It was a good enough finish to keep first year Coach Jim Jones his job for another season.

A smiling Jim Jones after coaching his Springs Valley Blackhawks to another win.

The next year, 1963-1964, proved to be as difficult as the year before, with Valley ending up with many more losses than wins. An Evansville newspaper reported just before sectional play that Jim Jones would be let go at Springs Valley. Then came the great run, including a double overtime win over a 20-2 St. Ferdinand team in the final game of the sectional, a run that caused the Evansville paper to headline, Jones Not Gone Yet.

The championship win against the St. Ferdinand Crusaders in a double overtime in 1964 saved Jim Jones’ coaching career at Springs Valley.

The Blackhawks would gain the regional trophy that year too after beating North Knox and Loogootee and advancing to the semi-state, where they lost in the final contest to Bedford.

Coach Jones’ Blackhawks, on their way to the semi-state.

As Jasper Herald sportswriter Jerry Birge later noted, Coach Jones would make the Huntingburg sectional his playground, winning two more sectionals in a row and another in 1969, for a total of four crowns. The 1966 championship, a double overtime win against Jasper, came on a Charlie Carnes long bomb with two seconds left on the clock.

Charlie Carnes uncorks his winning basket against Jasper.

In 1969, Valley had to win three games to take the sectional title, and did so in an amazing march of easy victories over Jasper, Dubois, and Holland.

Springs Valley’s 1969 Huntingburg sectional championship team.

In 1970, the Blackhawks were moved to the Paoli sectional where they lost a heart breaker to Paoli after coming into the tourney with a solid record of 15-5, including a win over conference foe Loogootee, who went to the state finals that year. Jim, however, came back the next year with a team that peaked at just the right time to win the Paoli sectional in 1971. This was a Mark Bird, Kevin Carnes, and Steve Land led team. It would be Jim’s last sectional championship as a Springs Valley coach.

Coach Jones’ last sectional winner while at Springs Valley, the 1970-1971 squad that featured Mark Bird, Steve Land, and Kevin Carnes.

The 1972-1973 squad would present Coach Jones his best regular season at Springs Valley, a sterling 18-2 record and state ranking. This was a senior led team with Steve Land, who set single game and career Valley scoring and rebounding records, along with seniors Danny King and Tony Clark. Junior Larry Bird came into his own later in the season.  The incredible run was unexpectedly shattered in a loss to Orleans in the semi-finals of the sectional.

Coach Jones, presenting senior Steve Land with the game ball in the 72-73 season after Land set a new Valley all-time career scoring record. In the background are seniors Tony Clark and Danny King.

In June of 1974, Coach Jones resigned from his coaching duties at Springs Valley but kept the athletic directorship there for another year before taking his next career step at Princeton High School. Later, he coached at Terre Haute North High School.

Coach Jones came out of retirement from 2012-2014 to coach at Springs Valley High School again, where he gained his 700th high school basketball win. His overall record of tournament coaching was phenomenal, Jim having won twenty-five sectionals, six regionals, and a semi-state title. In 2002 he was inducted into the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame. But the journey started and ended at Springs Valley, a legacy that would continue to vibrate in the world of basketball for years to come.