DALLAS — Imagine showing up for basketball practice and having your coach tell you to bring your winter boots and your mother’s white gloves to the next practice.
That’s exactly what Joseph “Red” Jones told his players at St. Vincent’s High School in Plymouth in the 1960s.
On the first day of basketball practice, Red would tell his recruits that, for the next practice, they were to bring their winter boots — also known as galoshes — and their mothers’ white gloves.
So they did.
There was not a basketball to be found as the players ran up and down the court in those galoshes. They were even told to run up and down the steps of St. Vincent’s School, stepping on each step four times — one, two, three, four, step, one, two, three, four, step. Up and down repeatedly, wearing galoshes.
“If nothing else, we were going to be in great shape,” said Neil Brazitis, a 1968 graduate.
The white gloves? Red would check the gloves after practice. If he found any dirt on the palms of the gloves, more running in galoshes would be ordered.
“The ball should never touch your palms,” he would shout. “Fingertips, fingertips!”
Fundamentals were paramount to Red’s style of coaching.
And Red knew basketball. He knew how to defend. He knew how to execute the fast break. He knew how to pressure the other team. He knew how to build character.
St. Vincent’s was an awesome place back in the day. Known for its talented basketball and baseball teams, the school contended for the title every year and won many. Pretty impressive stuff when class sizes were only about 35 students every year.
Red managed to get more from his players than they knew they had.
So it was with much anticipation I looked forward to visiting with Coach Jones, now 77, last weekend. A former Luzerne County commissioner and a well-known square dance caller, Red couldn’t wait to see a couple of his boys again.
I went to Red’s home to reminisce with him about his days coaching the Vinnies. I had in tow a couple of St. Vincent grads — two of “Red’s boys.”
Brazitis and Steve Rosick (class of 1970) played for Red and wanted to see their coach one more time. To listen to those stories. To see the old Redhead again. To remember and re-live how great those good times were.
Red didn’t disappoint, even though Brazitis and Rosick weren’t wearing galoshes.
Red told us he was in the U.S. Marine Corps and went to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina.
“At Parris Island, I became a man,” Red said. “And I brought Parris Island to St. Vincent’s.”
Brazitis, who now lives near Philadelphia, and Rosick laughed at first, then realized how true it was.
Red knew who could play and who should play. You were a favorite if you hustled, listened and learned. It didn’t matter who your parents were or who you knew.
Rosick, who still lives in Larksville, played point guard, having to follow in the legendary footprints of Stanley Simonds, whom, Red said, “pound for pound and inch for inch, was the best basketball player I ever saw.”
Rosick said Red taught him the position and made him a better player. That was true for so many of his Vinnies teammates.
Brazitis said there was a drill where Red would put a basketball at center court and a player at opposite ends. He would blow the whistle and the two players would take off for the ball. There were a lot of collisions, a lot of scrapping, a lot of soreness.
One time Red caught a player smoking. He told the player to put on his galoshes and hit the steps. About an hour later, the player hadn’t returned.
“I forgot about him,” Red said. “He was still on the steps and he was exhausted, but he never stopped.”
Red asked Brazitis and Rosick about their families. He asked about many of his other players. He keeps in touch with a lot of them. Red said the visit “made my day.”
He talked about the loss of his wife, Marie. “You know, I lost my buddy,” he said.
Family and friends are important to Red and he instilled that in his players. Red’s stories were as fresh today as they were in the ’60s, and I don’t think he missed any names — Jago, Murphy, Kennedy, Ziegler, Sobolefski, Hogan, Brennan, Boney, Kachurak, Hosey, Mizzer, Ricci, Casey, Simonovich, Petroski, Moran, Goodman and many more.
One thing is for sure — Red’s boys have never forgotten their coach and what he meant to them.
Because coaching was more than teaching basketball for Red. He knew that by teaching his players a game, he could seize the opportunity to mold them into good citizens.
Red knew that after high school and the glory of basketball at St. Vincent’s, his boys would enter the real world.
And Red knew that sometimes life can be difficult — as difficult as running up and down steps wearing galoshes.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.