Trust, hard work helps Jones pursue dream
Published 10:17 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Pike County High School often see a familiar face sitting just a few rows behind Troy’s bench at most home games. The Bulldogs first year head basketball coach tries to catch as many games as possible and not just to root on his alma mater. Doug Branson is one of the main reasons Troy guard Emil Jones is wearing cardinal, silver and black.
As a three-sport athlete in Hattiesburg, Miss., Jones signed to play quarterback at Pearl River Community College. Jones once again excelled finishing second in the Pearl River record books for passing yards. But the whole time Jones felt something was missing.
“When I was playing football, I missed playing basketball a lot,” Jones said. “I just loved basketball more.”
That love for basketball led Jones to return for a third year a Pearl River, something athletes are allowed to do if they have credit hours remaining towards a degree.
The decision to come back to play basketball was not an easy one, however. Jones had scholarship offers from Memphis, Marshall and Grambling to play football.
Jones was awarded a scholarship to play basketball and the same year Pearl River hired Branson as its assistant coach.
Branson served as head coach at Columbus State for four seasons, replacing Herbert Greene, the school’s all-time winningest coach.
Once at Pearl River, Branson saw something special in Jones.
“It was pretty obvious that he had a good head on his shoulders and knew the game,” Branson said.
“He knew he was getting some attention to play at the four-year level. He gravitated toward me a little because he knew I had experience from the level he wanted to go to.”
The pair began working to improve Jones’ game to prepare him for the next level.
“We connected quick,” Jones said. “Even now, he’s someone I can call and talk to about anything.”
Through early morning and post-practice workouts Jones and Branson became close but one thing still separated the pair –– shooting.
Jones says Branson, though 20 years removed from his playing days, can still put up a quality shot. For the record, Branson adamantly testifies he won the shooting competitions.
Both agreed that the one person neither would challenge was Troy assistant coach Ben Fletcher, who Branson recruited while at Columbus State.
“He’s the one guy on this planet I wouldn’t shoot against,” Branson said. “Ben Fletcher is the best three-point shooter I’ve ever been around.”
When time came for Jones to choose a school to attend, he once again sought Branson’s advice.
“He asked me which coaches I like and trusted,” Branson said. “Without a doubt, Don Maestri and David Felix were at the top of the list.”
Troy watched Jones play and extended an offer for him to join the program.
Branson was offered a position as teacher and head basketball coach at Pike County High School and is excited to continue watching Jones play.
Jones earned a starting spot two games into the season and has produced ever since.
Jones is shooting over 40 percent from three-point range and leads the team in steals.
“You could name any school in the country and I know Emil would be successful,” said Branson. “He works as hard as anybody and wants to succeed.”
And as for a rematch against Emil or a challenge from his Pike County players?
Branson just chuckled.