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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Derek Jones didn’t have much time to celebrate the Princeton men’s basketball team’s trip to the Sweet 16.
The voice of the Tigers had a flight to catch.
It’s been a busy March for the play-by-play man, who has been logging the air miles between calling Princeton’s NCAA Tournament games on the radio and NIT games on television for ESPN.
“You think they had a chance to win the Ivy League Tournament, so you’re always thinking like, ‘OK, there is a possibility they could get to the NCAAs,” Jones said during a rare few minutes of downtime ahead of Princeton’s game against Creighton at the KFC Yum! Center. “Winning one game is like, ‘Wow!’ Winning two games is like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re on a journey.’”
Jones’ crazy month began with serving as the pre-and-postgame host for the Ivy League Tournament, an NIT game in Lynchburg, Va., between Villanova and Liberty last Tuesday, Princeton’s two NCAA Tournament games in Sacramento on Thursday and Saturday, and an NIT second round contest in Madison, Wisc., that pitted Liberty against Wisconsin.
Jones said he hung around the locker room for a few minutes to congratulate some of the players and coaches, but then had to drive from Sacramento to San Francisco so he could catch a flight to Chicago and then transfer to another flight to Madison.
“When I got to Wisconsin, some of the people had done their research on who I was,” he said. “They’re like ‘Were you really in Sacramento?’”
Jones has been the voice of Princeton basketball since the start of the 2012 season, and while there have been plenty of big moments none of them top this.
“I think the one thing this team has been very consistent at throughout the year is responding to adversity in a game and after games,” Jones said. “They’ve just been unwavering. Regardless of how this turns out this is going to be one of the big takeaways from this team is they don’t wilt under the moment, they don’t crack under pressure.”
Jones knew he wanted to be a broadcaster at the 13 years old. An avid Philadelphia fan, he grew up listening to Harry Kalas on the Phillies, Merrill Reese on the Eagles and Gene Hart on the Flyers.
“I’ve really enjoyed watching the games, but I also enjoyed those guys and their ability to tell stories effectively,” Jones said, also citing the iconic NFL duo of Pat Summerall and John Madden.
Jones graduated from Rowan University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Radio, Television, and Film and a Master of Arts degree in Public Relations. He serves as the general manager for Rowan Radio 89.7 WGLS-FM and teaches courses in sports broadcasting and radio production.
His students are, in many ways, enjoying this as much as he is.
“They can’t believe it,” Jones said. “I just had class (Wednesday) in the morning and everybody is kind of like ‘are you surprised this is happening?’ And my answer is yes. No matter what you thought of the team, it’s hard not to think I’m here. This is nuts.”
Never change, Mad Dog lol. Classic Russo. pic.twitter.com/9nC6NHYVcD
— Derek Jones (@DerekJones79) March 17, 2023
Jones described the feeling as surreal when he hears his voice attached to these big moments.
“One thing that kind of gets lost in the shuffle of broadcasting is that you are going as far as the team goes,” Jones said. “If you are around great teams, great players, that’s going to help you. None of that is happening without these guys.
“Somebody sent me a video on Saturday night of a quick CBS recap showing Blake Peters hitting a 3 and as they are showing the highlights my voice in playing in the background. I’m like, ‘this is unbelievable.’ It does feel like a dream.”
It’s also one he’s living next to his broadcast partner Noah Savage, a former Princeton player, who himself has been jetting around. Savage worked the Seton Hall-Colorado NIT game in Boulder, Colo., flew to Sacramento and then back to Colorado for Colorado-Utah Valley in the NIT.
“He’s seen this, he knows how hard it is to get to this point and he’s embraced this moment,” Jones said. “Kind of both of us at the end of the Arizona game were like, ‘Wow! That just happened.’ … Anybody who stepped on the floor with Princeton basketball, this is special for you. It was very cool for me to live vicariously through him and seeing his reaction to everything in real time was awesome.”
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