Dec. 3, 2002
by Kathleen Lopez
When big brother talks, you listen.
At least that is the feeling of the Notre Dame men's basketball team when its vocal leader Torrian Jones speaks.
"I like to be able to just do a little bit of everything," Jones says.
Jones in fact does a little bit of everything for the Irish from rebounding to defense to pushing the fast break. Also, Notre Dame's sixth man is known for being one of the most vocal members of the 2002-03 men's basketball squad.
"The team in general is a little bit of a quiet group," associate head coach Sean Kearney says.
"Torrian is our most vocal guy out of everyone. When he gets on the floor, gets moving and gets talking, it really helps the group."
Three seniors, who played large amounts of minutes, graduated and the Irish are taking on a new look. Just a couple games into the season, it has become apparent that this team is going to be different. This team will be known for its defense.
No one was happier to see that transformation more than Jones.
"For the past few years, we have always had good defensive team," Jones says.
"This year, we are more of position defenders who rely on being patient." Their patience earned the Irish some impressive stats through the first couple games and helped bolster the team's offensive output as well.
"We are also at the point where we can create offense of our defense which is the way I like to play basketball," Jones says.
The 6-5 guard's love for basketball started at a young age. His mother tells him about when he was little, how he would be totally enthralled by a basketball game on television.
"I have been around basketball a whole lot, especially Division I basketball," Jones says. Torrian's uncles played Division I college basketball at Rutgers and Lasalle. He recalls attending a couple of his Uncle Mike's games at Rutgers.
Jones has almost always been an East Coast kid. He was born in North Carolina and lived there for a short stint before the family moved to Washington D.C. Finally about the time that Torrian was in the second grade, his family settled just outside of Philadelphia which is where he calls home to this day.
"I liked all the sports, just like all little kids do," Jones recalled.
"With my uncles being basketball players, it influenced me more to play basketball because I was around it so much."
Jones did enjoy playing other sports as well, including football. He played it for about three years from seventh to ninth grade.
"I liked football and it was fun, but it really wasn't where my heart was at," Jones said.
"I think that is why I really started focusing on basketball after my freshman year." He felt that it was time to buckle down and really pursue his passion.
"I knew that I had to get serious," Jones recalls.
"That is when I started doing basketball year round, like playing AAU and devoting time during the summer and stuff."
The modest Jones says that while most players' basketball careers follow the same path, his story is different. He contends that he really didn't believe that he would eventually be playing Division I basketball on a full scholarship, until he received a letter his sophomore year.
"After one of my games, my coach brought me this letter," Jones recalls.
"The thought never even crossed my mind that I would be recruited and once I got that letter, it just served as motivation for me to work that much harder." Soon many letters would follow for the standout guard from the likes of several BIG EAST schools, Stanford, Boston College and numerous others.
"I had a good amount of schools to choose from in my recruiting process," Jones said. Funny thing is, the one that would win him over would not come until late in the game.
"I never received a letter from Notre Dame," Jones recalls.
"They actually started recruiting me really late in the process. Coach [Matt] Doherty recruited me for Kansas, after he saw me play a game in Providence. Then he left and took the head coaching job here and I was unaware of that."
The summer before his junior year in high school, Doherty came calling again. This time it was for a different school and he was curious if Jones would be interested.
"I was always open for any kind of opportunity," Jones said.
"As the year went on, I started to take a couple recruiting visits. My first visit was to James Madison and I liked that school a lot. Then I had my visit to Notre Dame the following weekend."
It was Halloween weekend, but for Jones there was nothing spooky about his trip to Notre Dame. He recalls connecting almost instantly with the team and the coaching staff. Also, Jones attended a football game and spent time on campus.
"It just felt like this was the place for me," Jones said.
"I really fit in here. I cancelled my other visits that I had setup at the time."
Then Doherty departed for the University of North Carolina and Mike Brey stepped in to become the head coach at Notre Dame.
"I was really nervous," Jones recalls about Doherty leaving.
"Not only is this where I am playing basketball, but this is the place I am receiving my education from. I wanted to make sure the place I was going to was where I would be comfortable."
Jones briefly entertained the idea of going to a different school but not for long.
"When they hired Coach Brey, within a day he was at one of my summer league basketball games," Jones recalls.
"Just the fact that he would take time out of his schedule so soon, let me know how much he cared about me."
With that one visit any thoughts of switching to a different school vanished. Jones reported to Notre Dame with all the other freshmen in August of 2000.
"The way that the coaches have treated me and been there for me and the way that the players took me in right away, helped me deal with being away from home," Jones remembers.
Jones soon realized that Notre Dame would become his home away from home and that the team would become his surrogate family.
"We are definitely a family," Jones says of the basketball team.
"I don't think many college basketball teams or sports teams in general, are as a close as we are. Everything we do, we do it together."
Jones feels that family atmosphere on the team, really lends to the squad's success. All members of the basketball squad play a certain role in the family.
"Torrian is really the vocal leader," senior Matt Carroll says of his teammate.
"He sets the mood for us."
Jones' realizes the importance of his role. It is not often that you find a basketball team that relies quite as heavily on their sixth man as the Irish do.
"He definitely brings a spark when he comes in the game," Carroll says.
"Whether things are going good or bad and he is coming in, we know he is going to bring a lot of energy into the game."
That spark is what has really earned him more playing time. Over the past two seasons, his minutes have almost tripled from around five minutes per game during his freshman year to 15 minutes per game last season.
"When Torrian comes into the game for us, he is a guy that we look to for a lot of energy," Kearney says.
"We look for most of it on the defensive end. He really gets up in people's faces and bothers them. A lot of times when he gets on the floor, we may match him up with the opponent's best perimeter player."
This season, if an opponent's guard gets hot, look for a quick sub to get Jones on to the floor. Brey and the coaching staff want their vocal leader out on the floor.
"Torrian is so good at keeping it simple and who he is," Brey says.
"If he sees scoring opportunities, he takes them and if they are none there then he moves the ball. He is very mature about being himself on a daily basis."
It is that self-discipline which has helped Torrian earn the respect of his teammates.
"Coach Brey always mentions me as being one of the vocal leaders on the team," Jones said.
"We lost some great leaders in Ryan [Humphrey], David [Graves] and Harold Swanagan, so some people had to step up on the team and lead more so by example than by being vocal. I try to do a little bit of both because there is nothing like having that person that you can always go to talk to. I know how important that role is so I like to do it myself."
The great thing about Jones is he knows exactly how to balance his role as the big brother.
"He is a funny guy who is always cracking jokes but he is also intense," Carroll says.
When the freshmen showed up this year, Jones knew what it would take for them to start to feel at home. He began to joke around with them like they had been members of the team for more than just a couple days.
"I just tried to find out stuff about them personally before I even brought up anything about basketball," Jones recalls.
He also took the time to impart a little bit of advice to help the freshman transition from high school basketball to college basketball.
"I told them to not get discouraged right away because it is a long season," he said.
"You will have a long career here and there are going to be ups and downs. You will have to deal with bumps and bruises. When things are not going your way, you can't hang your head. You just have to keep on pushing hard and it will all work in the end."
Jones, himself, has followed that advice and found his spot as the sixth man. It is a spot that he relishes because he knows what kind of power comes with it.
"A good game for me is when I am as influential in the game as possible," Jones says.
"It does not necessarily mean scoring or one dimension. I have to affect the game in many ways. I like to be that spark off the bench, which has been my role, since I arrived here. Also I like to come into the game and just change the pace of it. Defensively, I like to bring a presence on the floor which is my specialty since I was a freshman in high school."
Jones' role on the team has also expanded. The coaching staff relies heavily on the junior guard when they bring in recruits. They believe that he best conveys the family atmosphere of the Notre Dame basketball team.
"He is a guy that we use in recruiting relentlessly because he is so good," Kearney says.
"He has a big impact on the group."
If you feel that things aren't going the Irish's way, look for Brey and staff to make a change and get big brother, Torrian Jones, in the game.
Despite not being the team leader in points, rebounds or minutes, Jones has earned the respect of not only his teammates but the entire coaching staff as well.
He wouldn't trade that away for the world.