By Duane Cochran
FAIRMONT — When Joe Jones starred on basketball court for Fairmont State from 1982-86, “Big Daddy” was one of his most popular nicknames.
The moniker was given to Jones by former teammate Shawn Finney, who now serves as the director of basketball operations for the University of Kentucky.
Little did Finney or any of the other Falcons Jones played with at the time know how appropriate that nickname would become in the future.
Jones, who was 6-6 and weighed in the neighborhood of 260 pounds during his college playing days, was a force in the middle for Fairmont State. He averaged a team-high 18.6 points and 7.7 rebounds as a senior center during the 1985-86 season and garnered second-team All-West Virginia Conference honors. He finished his career with 1,323 points, which ranks 29th in school history, and 876 rebounds.
Now 21 years after his own career ended Jones, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., finds himself back around the college game . This time he’s watching his biological son Greg Oden, who stars for Ohio State University and is arguably the biggest young star in NCAA Division I basketball.
“It’s been real nice for me having the chance to see him play this year, but you know I’m the type who likes to stay in the background,” said Jones. “I’m a little nervous watching him. When I go to games a lot of fans don’t know who I am, and that’s fine. There’s nothing worse than being a parent and sitting beside someone who is talking about your kid maybe not in the best way. I just try to avoid all of that. I like to stay up top when I can.
“I’m real proud of him, though, for what he’s been able to accomplish so far in his life.”
Oden is the Buckeyes’ 19-year-old stellar 7-foot freshman center who averages a team-high 15.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots per game. He helped lead Ohio State to its second straight Big Ten championship this year and its first No. 1 national ranking since 1962. OSU finished the regular season 27-3 overall and 15-1 in the league.
He was selected to the National Association of Basketball Coaches second-team All-America squad on March 7. Oden is the first All-America selection at Ohio State since point guard Scoonie Penn was an NABC second-team All-America selection in 2000.
On March 6, Oden was selected by the Big Ten coaches and media to the 2007 first-team All-Big Ten squad. He also made the league’s all-freshman team, was the conference freshman of the year and was the league’s defensive player of the year.
The United States Basketball Writers Association also picked Oden and his high school teammate Mike Conley Jr. for the All-District V team this past week.
Jones and Oden’s mother Zoe met when the two were in high school back in the early 1980s in Buffalo. Jones attended McKinley, while Zoe went to Kensington. When Jones came to Fairmont State to play college basketball, Zoe came to visit him on a couple of occasions to watch him play.
The couple conceived Greg on Jan. 22, 1988, but eventually parted ways. Zoe went on to marry Greg Oden Sr. in Buffalo and had a son Anthony with him.
In 1997, shortly after divorcing Greg Oden Sr., Zoe and the boys moved to Terre Haute, Ind. Greg Jr. was nine years old at the time. In 2001 the family relocated to Indianapolis, and Greg began to emerge as a force on the basketball court. He stood 6-4 in the sixth grade, and by the time he entered eighth grade he was 6-8 and still growing.
He helped lead Lawrence North High School to three consecutive Class 4A state titles in Indiana. The school compiled a 103-7 overall record with Oden, who scored 1,873 points, grabbed 1,058 rebounds and blocked 341 shots in four years. Lawrence North High never lost a conference game and was unbeaten at home during his career.
Many feel had a recent rule that requires high school players to spend at least one year in college not been in place, Oden would have gone directly from high school to the NBA.
Some also speculate if he chooses to leave Ohio State after this season he will be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft.
For now, though, Oden is content on trying to help Ohio State win the Big Ten Conference Tournament title today in Chicago and eventually a national title. However, there is some speculation that the youngster, who has a 3.7 grade-point average, may want to spend another season in Columbus.
“I know when I was a freshman at Fairmont we really started to jell and there was a nice little family feeling on the team, and I think Greg is going through that same thing at Ohio State as a freshman,” said Jones. “He’s really enjoying the college atmosphere. I’ve told him you only go around once, and this is something you’ll never forget. I’m enjoying him being a kid and having fun, but you know before long he won’t be a kid anymore.
“As for the rumors about going or staying, I guess everyone will make some rumors when no one is saying anything. Right now Greg’s just concentrating on trying to win the Big Ten Tournament and then the Big Dance. You know you can only concentrate on one thing at a time, so we’re going to let him finish out the season and then decide from there.
“I don’t think it’s (the opportunity to play in the NBA) going anywhere. It’s just nice for him that he’s in the position he happens to be in, and he understands that. Right now he just wants to be a kid and enjoy the whole thing.”
Mother raised him
Both Greg and Anthony have always acknowledged the elder Oden as their father, but in reality they are half brothers. Greg Sr., who is a plumbing and heating contractor in Buffalo, maintains a close relationship with both boys.
Jones acknowledges that he hasn’t been a big presence in young Greg’s life until recently, but is quick to credit Zoe for the job she has done raising their son as a single parent.
“She did most of the work raising him, and she did a great job of it,” said Jones. “I would never want to take anything away from that.
“Someone asked me recently if I could change things now would I, and I said absolutely not. I mean we’re all in a win-win situation. She did a great job as a parent. Regardless of all of the little ins and outs that could’ve been I wouldn’t change anything for the world.”
Jones’ life nowadays
According to Jones, he left Fairmont State three hours shy of receiving his degree in physical education and social work. He plans in the future to finish work on his degree. That’s a promise he recently made to his children.
He still makes his home in Buffalo, where he has spent the past 17 years working for the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.
“I’m working in Rochester now at a prison for juveniles,” said Jones. “We have juveniles who have committed all kinds of different crimes.
“People ask me if I like my job. I say I don’t like it; I love it. Helping out kids, I think, is very important. Just because they did something wrong, they’re still kids and some of them can still be turned around. I really love doing what I do.”
Jones is married, and he and his wife Donna have two children at home, a daughter Dominique (11) and a son Joe (7). He also has an older son Jordan (20), who lives in Akron, Ohio.
at Fairmont State
Jones was a member of Dave Cooper’s first recruiting class at Fairmont State for the 1982-83 season and he played three seasons with current FSU head coach Tim Murphy. Together those two helped lead the Falcons to the 1984 West Virginia Conference Tournament Championship when they defeated West Virginia Tech, 63-57. Jones was a sophomore then, while Murphy was a junior.
The following season the Falcons made it back to the league tournament title game, but lost to regular-season champion West Virginia Wesleyan, 92-66.
Ironically, Fairmont has not won a league tournament title since 1984 and hasn’t played for the WVC Tournament championship since 1985.
In Jones’ final season, 1985-86, Fairmont went through a coaching change when Joe Lambiotte took over for Cooper. The Falcons started strong that season winning 11 of their first 15 games, including eight straight conference victories before faltering down the stretch. FSU was 13-15 in Jones’ final season and finished ninth in the WVC.
Still, however, Jones says he has several fond memories about his playing days at Fairmont State.
“I enjoyed Fairmont,” said Jones. “To be honest, that’s probably where I started to become a man. When you come out of high school and find yourself a good ways away from home, it forces you to grow up in a hurry.
“Coach Cooper did a real good job of helping to raise us, so to speak, and then Coach Lambiotte also did a good job. One of the other things that really stands out to me is there were a lot of other people in the town who were good people to talk to and rely on when you needed guidance. You had people like Joe Retton and others who were big influences on us.”
Jones noted that he also developed several friendships with his fellow players.
“I was blessed to play with a lot of good guys, and we were sort of a tight-knit group,” he said. “I came in with guys like Elvin Addison, David Bell and Mike Hawkins. Tim Murphy was already there and was one of the best players I ever played with. He was definitely one of our key guys. Then Kevin Beaford, another great player, came back and played with us in 1984 and helped us win the conference tournament championship. We also played for the tournament championship the next year too and were the runners-up.
“We also had a lot of other good guys on the team like Tris (Brian Tristani) and Shawn Finney, who is now with Kentucky, and others. When I look back on that now I realize that was a very special time in my life, and I’m thankful for that. Fairmont basketball was big-time then. When you played for Fairmont State everyone knew you and respected you. That was my family back then, and it seemed like we didn’t have a care or a problem then.”
Jones had hoped to make it back to Fairmont this season for a game. When he found out last year that his former teammate Tim Murphy was the Falcons’ current head coach he says it gave him inspiration to re-connect with his alma mater.
“I called down there last summer because I wasn’t sure the Tim Murphy that was their head coach was the same Tim Murphy I knew, but when I heard his voice on the thing I was like ‘Oh my God. This is unbelievable,’” said Jones.
“We were like two kids in the candy store talking to one another. Since then we’ve talked several times.
“I wanted to surprise him and come down to a game late this season, but I went to see Greg play instead. I definitely want to make it down for a game in the future, though.”
Jones noted that he may attend the NCAA Tournament’s first- and second-round games at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo this coming week. He, however, definitely has tickets for the Final Four in Atlanta.
“I’m already booked to go to the Big Dance in Atlanta and for now I’m just going to act like Greg and Ohio State are going to be there,” he said. “If not then I’m just going to enjoy some basketball.
“I just want to let some of this stuff calm down because there’s so much at the forefront right now. Greg and Ohio State have to deal with a lot of distractions, but I think he does a good job of handling that. He’s a kid who puts the program first, which is the right thing to do. You can’t do anything but deal with it well, and he does that. He’s a low-key type of kid who likes watching movies and just staying at home.
“I know he’s dealing with an awful lot in his life right now. It’s a lot for me taking all of this in because you know I still have young kids at home.
“Everything has been good, though. We’re just blessed that everything has gone this way, and I hope in the future whatever happens it just stays good.”