The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

March 30, 2010

Jones, Whiteside leave Marshall

Coach going to UCF, player set for NBA millions

BECKLEY — Marshall fans hoped the men’s basketball program was entering a new era when Donnie Jones was introduced as head coach three years ago.

That era may have come crashing down Monday with a double shot of bad news.

Not only has Jones stepped down, accepting the vacant head coaching position at Central Florida, but freshman sensation Hassan Whiteside is leaving for the greener pastures of the NBA.

Whiteside’s move was expected, with his projections as a lottery pick at the NBA draft this summer. Jeff Goodman of first reported the decision by the 7-foot, 235-pound forward.

Jones’ departure, meanwhile, has been met with some head-scratching and speculation. The Point Pleasant native amassed a 55-41 record in three seasons at Marshall, including a 24-10 mark in 2010. The Thundering Herd lost 80-72 to Appalachian State in the quarterfinals of the Tournament last week.

It was Marshall’s first postseason appearance since the 1988 National Invitation Tournament.

“I want to thank coach Jones for his service and we appreciate what he has accomplished in his time here at Marshall,” Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick said in a statement.

Jones’ name surfaced last week among candidates to replace Kirk Speraw, who was fired earlier this month after 17 years at UCF. Jones had denied being contacted by UCF in state media outlets.

A Point Pleasant native, Jones took over at Marshall in 2007. He led the Thundering Herd to a 16-14 record in his first season, the team’s first winning record in seven years.

Many fans are amazed that Jones would leave to make what they consider a lateral move to a division rival in Conference USA. Speculation has been that UCF’s facilities and large student population (50,000-plus) may have been factors.

Marshall, meanwhile, completed a $1.7 million basketball locker room project in the fall of 2009 and has announced more than $1 million in renovations to the Cam Henderson Center for next season that includes a new scoreboard, new lighting system, new LED signage, new instant replay equipment and other improvements to the facility.

Rumors also are floating that UCF could receive an invitation to move to the Big East, an enticing reason for Jones to jump ship if true.

Jones signed a five-year contract extension prior to this season. His compensation package was worth an estimated $400,000 with incentives that could have earned him an additional $250,000 per year. The contract includes a $500,000 buyout clause.

Jones will be introduced at a news conference at 2 p.m. today. According to the school’s athletics Web site, he will also hold a meet-and-greet starting at 5:30 p.m. prior to the Knights baseball team’s game against Bethune-Cookman, for which he will make the ceremonial first pitch.

Whiteside captivated the Thundering Herd faithful with his shot-blocking prowess. He led the nation with 5.4 blocks per game while also averaging 13.1 points and 8.9 rebounds.

The Gastonia, N.C., native’s NBA stock continued to rise most of the season and, even though it has dipped some lately, he is still a projected lottery pick. The Web site has him going 11th, to the Milwaukee Bucks as of Monday.

Whiteside was named an honorable mention Associated Press All-American on Monday.

Hamrick said the search for Jones’ replacement will begin immediately. Current Herd assistant and Mullens native Shawn Finney would seem to be a top candidate. He formerly coached at Tulane and is familiar with the players.

“There will be no public comment during the search in order to protect the integrity of the process.” Hamrick said. “We have invested a great deal in our basketball program and we will find the right person to lead our program.”

— E-mail: gfauber@

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