While playing in the most-watched college basketball tournament in the United States is already a daunting task, trying to balance the pressures of the game with the responsibility of passing a class is another feat most athletes do not receive the credit for.
In light of the 2019 March Madness craze, three-time NCAA National Tournament competitor and IU Kokomo Men’s Basketball Assistant Coach Roosevelt Jones talked the ins-and-outs of maintaining the grades while competing for a national championship.
Jones was a member of the Butler Bulldogs basketball team from 2011 to 2016 where he was fortunate enough to play under now-Boston Celtics Coach Brad Stevens and Ohio State University Head Coach Chris Holtmann and compete in the 2013, 2015, and 2016 NCAA National Tournaments.
He holds the program record for career starts at 134 and currently sits in 11th place on the all-time scoring list with 1,533 points. Jones ranks high in many Butler statistical categories, including fourth in assists, fifth in rebounds, and eighth in steals in Bulldog history. He finished his career with a record of 94-46 and was named All-Big East Conference back to back seasons. On top of his on-the-court success, Jones also double majored in digital media productions and strategic communications.
While in school, Jones said the hardest part about balancing school and sports came when he was a freshman.
“That’s just a difficult time for anyone really, not just athletes. You have to adjust from your high school schedule to a college schedule that has a lot more free time and opportunity to either slack off or work hard,” said Roosevelt. “Thankfully, Butler really structured our time as athletes there well.”
Once on campus, Jones was more than a full-time student. Rather than taking one summer semester course to get ahead on his studies, he was required to take classes during both summer sessions, which he said gave him a leg up on his competition during the basketball season.
“It wasn’t as hard on us (at Butler) as it might have been on other schools because during the summer we attended both summer sessions, whereas other schools they give the option of going to one or the other. At Butler we had to go to both. It was nice because during the season we only had three, maybe four classes. For me and the team it was pretty easy to try and manage everything,” said Jones.
During the basketball season, Jones said the weight load of his classes was not strenuous. To help the players with their course work while on the road, a proctor sometimes travels with the team during long road games in order to allow players to take quizzes or tests in order to stay caught up with what was assigned.
Roosevelt said the time allotted to complete assignments was sometimes dependent on the professor as well, saying some teachers understood the players' situations and would allow for extra time once the athlete returned to campus to finish an assignment.
For Jones, he enjoyed the structured setup of classes at Butler. Finishing his career as a red-shirt senior, he was able to get two degrees while in school. Which in his time with Coach Stevens, school was the priority.
“(Brad Stevens) was definitely more school-first oriented and basketball second. He really prioritized making sure our grades were right,” said Jones. “He used to make us read throughout the season. At the beginning of the season he gave us a book that I know a lot of people have probably read, the ‘Energy Bus’ book, and went through it as a team. We were given questions to answer about it and to give a summary of the book. He would give us assignments like that throughout the season. He was definitely about our education before the game.”
As far as how he balanced both worlds when it came to the NCAA Tournament, he had no problems competing assignments. Granted, in all three appearances at the tournaments, Jones’ Bulldogs were unfortunately eliminated from play in the second round.
Regardless of win or loss, Jones said he loved the opportunity to play in the famous tournament.
“I enjoyed it because I’m a competitive person. The bigger the stage for me, the more excited and hyped up I am about the game. Plus, when we had Brad Stevens, we knew we were going to be well-prepared for everything that was coming. We used to run a million plays, and when we got in the tournament we would run plays we hadn’t run since November to give an edge because then teams wouldn’t know how to scout us,” said Jones.
While Jones enjoyed his time at Butler, he said he was happy to have been able to compete at a high level and now loves being able to coach at a competitive level as well. In his first season as a coach with IU Kokomo he helped the Cougars earn a first-time appearance at the NAIA DII National Tournament.