Paul Jones is a notable York Yeomen (York’s former men’s teams name before they were dubbed the Lions in 2003), inducted into the university’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. Eleven years later, Jones was approached by Canada Basketball to sit on their board of directors. And I got to sit down with Jones and his former Yeomen coach, Bob Bain, to look back on the former’s basketball journey.
President & CEO of Canada Basketball Glen Grunwald says Jones is a proven leader in the Canadian basketball community. “To be able to welcome him to the Canada Basketball Board of Directors is a tremendous addition for our organization.”
Jones graduated from Oakwood Collegiate, going on to study at York. In his time as a Yeomen point guard from 1977 to 1981, Jones won three provincial titles and accumulated many accolades, including two-time Ontario University Athletics Association (OUAA) all-star (1980, 1981), and two bronze medals at the Canadian Interuniversity Athletics Union (CIAU) national championship tournaments in 1978 and 1979.
However, before Jones made it on the team and acquired what he refers to as “another family,” upon walking into the coach’s office, Jones had only two things with him: his potential and a name — the latter of which Bain didn’t even remember at the time.
Bain — whose parents met at centre court in a basketball game, ironically — came to York in 1973 and set the standard for what coaches wanted from their players, both athletically and academically.
With Bain taking the reins of the Yeomen, the basketball team went on to 11 first-place finishes in the OUA East Division and six conference championships (1978, 1980-82, 1984-85). He won conference coach of the year nine times and has coached 14 Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) all-Canadians and 80 OUA all-stars. During his 38 years as head coach, Bain led more than 700 victories and his teams made the playoffs for 35 of those years.
“In my first year, Bob said, ‘I don’t know how much you’re gonna play.’ And I thought ‘okay, that’s fair, that’s very honest,’” Jones says. “He said if I come back next year, I’m gonna have to make it on my skill level.”
“They were wiser, stronger, more experienced than the people I would be playing against in university. I was 21, and some of these guys were 28, 29, 30. They played in different places around the world. I was getting good competition…”
“You can’t make it on your potential because I’ll have other guys that I see potential in that I could build into good players,” Bain had told Jones.
“I said, ‘okay, okay, that’s fine, I get it.’ So my first year at York, I played on my own in the senior men’s league.” Jones trained for that entire year, so while the York team was practicing a couple times a week, he was practicing with older men who were former university players and team players.
“They were wiser, stronger, more experienced than the people I would be playing against in university. I was 21, and some of these guys were 28, 29, 30. They played in different places around the world. I was getting good competition. And I was also pushing myself, it didn’t matter if the other team was lousy. I used this as a chance to better myself.”
Ironically, one of these men Jones was playing with was Mike Katz, who later became one of the coaches for the 2000 Canadian Olympic team.
“I came back next year, tried out, and made it on my skill level. But I didn’t play much that year because Bob recruited two of the best players in the country: Bo Pelech and David Coulthard,” Jones says.
“In his first year, I watched him play with all the respected players, all the recruits, and he didn’t even try out. I knew he was a good player because I watched him play during these scrimmage sessions,” Bain states.
Bain refers to Jones as a player with passion, “which sometimes had to be restricted,” he adds humorously.
“It was my competitiveness. I just always wanted to win and it didn’t matter to me who got the credit. Even if you have to do a little part to make it successful, do it,” says Jones.
“He was on a team with three all-Canadians at one point. And in his final game in ‘81 — the game we won at Windsor to win the Ontario championship — with three all-Canadians on the floor, Jones was the MVP of the game,” continues Bain.
And after being awarded the Kitch McPherson Trophy as most valuable player of the Ontario championship in his final game as a York Yeomen, Jones began to cry knowing that when he “took this uniform off, that’s it. I’m not putting it back on again.”
Towards the end of Jones’ journey as a Yeoman, Bain had also recruited Jones’ brother Mark, who was one of the top players in the OUAA. Inducted into the university’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, Mark began his career broadcasting with TSN and then moved on to ESPN. He was also recently appointed as the Sacramento Kings’ new play-by-play announcer.
After Paul Jones graduated from York with his kinesiology degree, he received his masters in sports psychology from Windsor, and eventually a teaching degree from Western. Jones began his career initially as an elementary school coach, then as a broadcaster on TSN — coach by day, broadcaster by night, if you will.
Jones also conducted analysis for the Toronto Raptors and is now renowned for serving as the play-by-play voice of the Raptors on FAN 590 radio in Toronto.
“Before beginning his broadcast career, Paul spent more than two decades in education,” says Grunwald, “and it’s his experience as a teacher, vice-principal, and principal that will aid Canada Basketball as we look to further align the basketball community and grow the game across our country.”
Canada Basketball had reached out to Jones via Co-Chair Brian Cooper. Cooper had actually met Jones back in 1981 right before the Yeoman went into the dressing room to cry that he had to take off his uniform for the last time.
According to Jones, Canada Basketball’s goal is to “unify the country, grow the game, identify talent, and just make us stronger in terms of basketball.”
“I am a firm believer that hard work never goes unrewarded. It might not be rewarded at the time and the place you want it to be but you’ll get your reward at some point.”
Jones went on to have two kids who became a part of the York Lions’ volleyball teams, alumnae Justine Jones and current student Andrew Jones. “I’m glad they’ve had experience on a varsity team because that gives you basically another family at the university, you’re not on your own. You lean on each other, you see each other everyday in practice, you travel together,” Jones says of his children’s time at York.
Bain and Jones have remained close over the years; the two of them occasionally even play golf together — the irony of it laying with Jones’ enjoyment of the sport, considering his distaste for it when Bain once told 20-year-old “Jonesy” he may end up liking another sport besides basketball. Bain refers to his former player as a “salt of the earth kind of guy,” and an appreciative Jones refers to his former coach as “accomplished, he kept me on the right path and channeled it the right way.”
For both Yeomen, basketball has taught them that the value of sport lays in integrity, perseverance, and hard work, playing as transferable skills in other aspects of life. These are the lessons that the two Yeomen have taught their own children.
Bain also highlights the importance of the game benefiting one’s self-perception and sense of acceptance. Particularly, “seeing yourself get better, setting goals, and achieving them.”
“My time with the team really set me up and gave me confidence. Made me feel like I was part of a cause everybody was working towards winning,” says Jones, echoing Bain’s sentiments. “I am a firm believer that hard work never goes unrewarded. It might not be rewarded at the time and the place you want it to be but you’ll get your reward at some point.”
Bain will always consider himself and the Jones brothers to be Yeomen. He refers to his time at York as “treasures” in interacting with players and students. “I learned so much from my students, more than they ever could learn from me.”