Ask D.C. OR NOTHING AAU basketball coach Aaron Jones what coaching means to him and he responds with a single word: “Everything.”
His team competed in the Charm City Classic in Baltimore, Md. April 26-27, emerging with a 2-1 record but the performance of the seventh- through ninth-grade players of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) in a tournament that featured 75 teams from around the country filled his heart with pride, he told the AFRO recently.
“We were missing three of our key players, so I was really proud of how they stuck together, didn’t use that as an excuse and still managed to win some games,” said Jones. “It was a really good experience.”
This tournament marked his first appearance as a head basketball coach. The Southeast D.C. native and former AAU player has followed a bumpy road to get to this point. A high school dropout, he returned to school to get his GED, then entered—and graduated– from Virginia State University in 2007.
Armed with a bachelor’s degree and a heart full of gratitude for what AAU ball meant for him, he decided it was time to give back to his tough Southeast D.C. community where he was raised and played AAU ball.
He said he felt compelled to provide young Black men the same thing that AAU gave him: an alternative to the hard-scrabble–and often violent—choices that are common in a poor underclass neighborhood.
For three years, he was an assistant coach in D.C. summer leagues and coached Hayfield High School’s junior varsity. Then, three years ago, he became an assistant coach at the AAU and this year got the opportunity to be a head coach
For Jones, however, coaching is more than just spelling out, through Xs and Os, how to play. He embraces the role of mentor and substitute father for the boys, he said.
“With AAU being so big with college coaches' involvement with recruiting, a lot of coaches were using the kids for their own agendas, to further their own careers… ‘I’ll help you recruit this kid if there’s a job on your staff for me.’ I didn’t like that,” said Jones. “I wanted to focus more on the kids and give them all the glory, and I think they can see that with me. They know that I’m there for them.”
A majority of the kids on D.C. OR NOTHING are from Southeast D.C., many of them from single-parent households. He immediately recognized the impact he could have on a team of young boys, not just as coach, but ultimately, as a teacher.
Jones decided to incorporate bonding sessions in the practice schedule. The bonding sessions, from fast-food meals to just sitting around talking, provide an opportunity for coach and kids to just hang out, get comfortable with each other and talk about whatever topic is important to them, from school and family life to current events.
“They know that I come from the area that they come from. They can talk to me about anything, regarding basketball or not. I think that’s part of it when you come from the same community they come from and you’ve been through a lot of the same things they’ve been through,” said Jones.
AAU basketball isn’t just a sport, he said. It’s a way to be a positive influence.
“I look forward to the practices probably more than the kids do.”