By Cameron Osburn
Fresh off of Langston University’s first NAIA Tournament win in school history, senior Curtis Jones leaves a special mark on the rise of the men’s basketball program.
Prior to the arrival of Coach Stan Holt three years ago, the Lions were in desperate need of a jolt. The addition of Holt, as well as Jones coming to Langston that year among other things, allowed Langston to have the foundation it needed for turning around their culture. In their first year under Holt, the Lions went 16-11, the first winning season at the school since 2008-2009. In year two, the Lions improved to 25-7 and this season finished 24-10.
Coach Holt says that having a player like Curtis on the team was important in changing the culture at Langston.
“CJ is a competitor and a winner,” Holt said. “He believes in positive energy from the bench, and a culture of players that support and encourage each other. He helped shape the program and make it into what it has become.”
Jones, who led the Lions in scoring and steals in each of his three seasons at the school, said the momentum for the program kept growing and growing following his first season.
“Each year we have improved,” Jones said. “Every season we were able to do things that we didn’t do the season before, and that haven’t been done at Langston. I’ve seen the program grow a lot since I’ve been here and would love for it to continue to grow.”
After three years at the school, he’s been part of a team that won a Red River Athletic Conference Tournament Championship in 2016, in addition to the post-season run the team made this year making it to the Elite Eight for the first time. Jones says what the team accomplished this year and last was special.
“It’s really awesome, when the buzzer went off (after the NAIA Tournament game) at the end of the game I couldn’t even control myself,” Jones said. “I just ran off the court into the locker room. I’m really excited to have been a part of the first win for Langston in the NAIA Tournament.”
Jones, who came to Langston from Chicago, Illinois, hasn’t been noticed just by the Lions fans, leaving as Langston’s first NAIA All-American in school history, which he was named for the 2015-16 season, a three-time All-Red River Athletic Conference selection and finished with over 1,000 career points.
He said the recognition he has received over the last three years validates the grind of the offseason.
“It means a lot,” Jones said. “because it shows all the hard work you put in during summer paid off.”
Holt described Jones’ game as versatile, and that he shows an astute understanding of the game of basketball.
“Curtis is an explosive guard that can score at all three levels,” Holt said. “At the rim, mid-range, and out at the three-point line. He makes plays for teammates and has a knack for stealing the ball. He uses his length, quickness and has great timing. He anticipates well. Finally, Curtis has great basketball IQ, knows the game, and understands how to win.”
Jones, and this year’s group of seniors as a whole, have taken the Lions to new heights in their time at the school. Coach Holt says the out-going seniors should be labeled as ‘a team of firsts.’
“They have accomplished so many firsts and set records at Langston,” Holt said. “Most points scored in a season, highest free-throw percentage in a season, highest field goal percentage in a season, top-13 in the in the nation in three-point percentage defense the last three years, upset the No. 1 team in the nation in each of the last two seasons, first ever NAIA National Tournament win, first Elite Eight appearance, and 2015-2016 conference tournament champions. This out-going group of seniors did an incredible job and they have built a legacy for themselves, for the basketball program and for Langston University as a whole.”
As for the legacy Jones individually leaves behind at Langston, he says he hasn’t thought about it much but is proud of what the team has accomplished.
“I just want to be remembered as someone that gave it all that they had on the court. And someone that’s a winner.”
Jones, who is set to graduate in May, said his goal after graduation is to try to continue his playing career overseas.