It was early on game-day and Rick Jones was busy checking on the health of his players.
After 15 years as an assistant boys basketball coach at West Valley, Jones takes over the Eagles’ girls program and he was concerned with how many of his dozen players would be available on his bench Tuesday night.
“We’ve had a lot of sickness around here the last couple days,” he said. “I’ve had sickness, we had a girl dislocate her elbow on Friday night and on Saturday against Post Falls we had a girl get a cut on her eye that required three stitches.”
There’s a saying about coaching – you never want to be the guy who takes over for THE guy. You don’t want to be the coach who follows John Wooden at UCLA, for example.
At West Valley, Jones doesn’t just follow a popular coach in Lorin Carlon. He follows a coach who was not just a coach but a surrogate grandfather to his players over a dozen years.
For a guy who has an entire gene dedicated just to enthusiasm, Jones is up to the challenge.
“When (athletic director) Jamie (Nilles) hired me I had a lot of people come up to me and say ‘What are you doing?’ ” Jones said. “But so far things have gone very well. I told them that I was probably going to call them ‘Guys’ for a while, but they said ‘That’s OK, coach, we don’t mind being called guys. Happens all the time.’
“But I told them that once they put on that uniform I don’t see them as girls. I see them as West Valley basketball players and they are there to represent the school.”
Jones said he was a bit concerned about his tone coming into the job.
“I wanted to make sure that I didn’t push them beyond where they were comfortable,” he said. “I know how hard to push guys – what I can say to them and how far to push. I don’t know that when it comes to girls. So I asked.
“They told me they like that I’m pushing them and that they want me to keep pushing them to get better.”
After 15 years with the boys program, the last nine with coach Jay Humphrey, Jones is excited about the chance to run a program.
“We’re going to have 12 players on our varsity and I want to play an up-tempo game, so we’re going to see a lot of players out there,” he said. “But we have good numbers. Our goal is to have four teams again: varsity, junior varsity, freshman and a C-team.
“When I was first hired we had a couple girls who said they didn’t want to play this year, but I talked to them and they decided to come out,” he said. “I’ve known these seniors since they were freshmen, so they all know me. In the end, we have one girl who didn’t come back, but that’s because she couldn’t take time away from her job.”
Jones hit the ground running, coaching the team in the summer league they run at West Valley as well as taking the group to a camp at Lewis-Clark State College and the team camp at Gonzaga.
“We got spanked a few times and took our lumps,” he said. “But we also had some success and we’re working to build on that.
“Our junior varsity did not win a single game last year and that was a concern. But they went out and won their first game so we got rid of that streak right away. And they were leading by 15 or 20 points in their second game when one of their teammates dislocated her elbow. That was pretty upsetting to them to see that and I think that affected them a little. They ended up losing that game, but they could easily be 2-0 already this season.”
The Eagles will have a strong group of seniors, and the new coach said his goal is to make certain their high school experience ends successfully.
And the team will get a quick start on that process.
“We’re doing things a little bit different this year,” Jones said. “In the past we’ve been able to schedule seven or eight nonleague games under your belt and then play your dozen league games – and we play every team in our league three times.
“This year we will play our first round of league games in December – we start league games Friday night. We’re going to get in our first round of league games and then have a nice break. We’ll have our own West Valley Holiday Classic, so we’ll have a couple games there.
“I think it will be good for us and give us a nice break before starting again with the first of the year.”