When Anthony Evans left Norfolk State to fill the vacancy left by Richard Pitino at FIU in the spring, assistant Robert Jones was promoted to interim head coach. And to this point in his debut season Jones has experienced a decent amount of success, with the Spartans (8-3) currently trailing North Carolina Central (12-1) in the MEAC standings by two games in the loss column and 14-11 overall.
With this being the case, Norfolk State announced on Wednesday that the school and Jones have come to an agreement on a contract extension through the 2016-17 season while also removing the interim tag. Norfolk State also announced hat it has extended the contract of women’s basketball head coach Debra Clark through the 2015-16 campaign.
“I’ve been very pleased with Coach Jones’ performance as a head coach on the Division I level,” Norfolk State AD Marty Miller said in the release. “He’s done an excellent job of getting our team to be competitive both within the conference and in non-conference play, despite having to deal with a number of injuries to key players.
“I’m also very satisfied with the academic performance of the program. Our basketball student-athletes had an excellent fall semester overall and are on track to repeat that effort this spring.”
According to the release the Spartans’ average of 74.2 points per game is the highest for the program in 13 years, with senior guards Malcolm Hawkins (16.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Pendarvis Williams (15.9, 5.2, 2.7 apg) leading the way offensively. Norfolk State begins a three-game road swing with a game at Coppin State on Saturday afternoon.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.
In 2012, the Norfolk State Spartans stunned second-seeded Missouri behind the play of now Orlando Magic forward Kyle O’Quinn. Last season, Norfolk State was in good position to make a second-straight trip to the NCAA tournament after running the table and going undefeated in MEAC play. However, in the quarterfinal of the conference tournament, Norfolk State was on the wrong end up an upset as eighth-seeded Bethune-Cookman took down the regular season champion.
Anthony Evans has left the program to fill the coaching vacancy at Florida International, giving the reigns to Robert Jones, who has spent six years at Norfolk State with last season being his first as the associate head coach. He’s been with the program through the highs of 2012 and the disappointment of last March. Coming up short has fueled his team early in the fall.
“I think it humbles a team. It makes them a little hungrier,” Jones told NBC Sports during a phone interview on Friday afternoon.
Norfolk State is the projected No. 1 team in the MEAC again this season with reigning MEAC Player of the Year Pendarvis Williams back along with Malcolm Hawkins, Brandon Goode, Jamel Fuentes and Rashid Gaston.
“We have so many guys coming back, they have a bitter taste in their mouths,” Jones said.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” Jones said of the offseason. “Some it has to do with stuff we implemented such as workouts. But a lot of it has to do with the guys, who have a chip on their shoulder, trying to redeem themselves from last year.”
The talent is there, and according to their coach, the Spartans have been more intense in practice than the team from 2012. Norfolk State doesn’t have a player like O’Quinn — though the 6-foot-6 Williams will get his fair share of pro looks — but the depth is better than two seasons ago. So could this team possibly be better than the fifth No. 15 seed to knock off a No. 2 seed?
“Potentially,” Jones answers.
Jones acknowledges that postseason play can come down to luck, just like last season when Bethune-Cookman dropped a one-point game to the Spartans, made some adjustments, and beat Norfolk State nine days later the MEAC tournament.
“That 2012 team, the luck of the draw was that we were playing a Missouri team that: 1. We were bigger than and 2. They played a style that we had already seen throughout the seen in the MEAC with four guards against us,” he added. “It was a perfect matchup. If we can get a couple of those things to happen this postseason, you never know what could happen.”
Jones hasn’t changed too much since taking over. He’s tweaked some stuff, with a little more focus on the offensive end. “I think in the past we concentrated more on the defensive side of the ball, and lacked on the offensive side of the ball,” Jones said. “[We’ll] play a little bit faster, get some more points on the board. I think we have the athletes to get over the 70 range.”
Norfolk State showed what can happen in 2012. Like Jones said, they’ll need some bounces to go there way, but if Norfolk State doesn’t live up to the expectations once again, it won’t be for lack of effort. The Spartans have talent, an improved offense, and something to prove heading into its season, which starts on Nov. 8 against Texas Southern.