For Andrew Jones, things are finally coming “full circle.”
After a two-year stretch playing professionally in Europe, the former four-year starter for the Nittany Lions’ basketball team has returned to State College as a graduate assistant.
Jones concluded his collegiate career as the school’s twelfth all-time rebounder and shot 54.6 percent from the field, a clip that ranks second in Penn State history. After graduation, he traveled to Eastern Europe to pursue a professional career in some far off places with some far off names.
Stints with Ukraine’s Krivbasbasket club, Greece’s Ilisiakos, and Slovakia’s Spišská Nova Ves were ultimately marred by various injuries. As such, Jones decided to trade in his sneakers for a clipboard and join Pat Chambers and his coaching staff.
“It’s great to have Drew back,” said senior captain and fellow big man Alan Wisniewski. “Everyday he comes in, whether it’s 6:15 in the morning or if we’re practicing at six at night, he’s got high energy. To have another big guy on the staff is really big for us.”
Wisniewski is one of only a handful of players on this year’s roster to have played alongside Jones as a teammate. Jones’s senior year, when he helped lead the Nittany Lions to the Big Ten Tournament Finals and the NCAA Tournament, was Wisniewski’s freshman campaign.
“Having an ex-player so fresh off his professional career is really beneficial for us because he knows what it takes to be successful,” Wisniewski said.
During the team’s open practice on Thursday, Jones was helping 6’10” freshman Julian Moore with post positioning, rebounding for Wisniewski, and serving as an experienced leader for an undersized and inexperienced Penn State frontcourt.
“Andrew has been helping me establish position down low on both the offensive and defensive end,” Wisniewski said. “He’s really been hitting us with the pad, telling us we need to get in position.”
Jones has also had the opportunity to both play with and now coach star point guard Tim Frazier. During Jones’ senior year, Frazier was an integral, yet inexperienced, component of an exciting team. The then-sophomore point guard averaged 6.3 points and 5.1 assists per game for the Nittany Lions.
Three years later, Jones sees the evolution of his old friend, on and off the court.
“His changing of speeds has improved,” Jones said. “I remember in particular his freshman year he had really just one speed, which was lightning fast. Now, he’s really screwing defenses up because he’s lulling guys asleep and then boom, he’s right by him making plays.
“His maturity level from sophomore [year]until now is tremendous,” Jones continued. “He’s become such a vocal leader. He’s always been a lead by example kind of guy but now he’s really matured and grown into a very dynamic, vocal leader.”
In many senses, Frazier embodies the leadership that Jones assumed in his senior campaign. Never a prolific scorer — he only averaged six points per game as a junior and a senior — Jones led by example through stellar defense and rebounding, and was often seen encouraging teammates after big plays and yelling at the crowd to match his intensity.
Now, Jones is taking on new challenges. In addition to being a graduate assistant, he has enrolled in Penn State’s graduate school, pursuing a master’s degree in Education. Recently, he got engaged to former Lady Lions standout and current Penn State law student Julia Trogele. They plan to marry on May 24th.
It’s a busy time for the couple. And it’s a busy time for Penn State basketball.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” said Jones.