LAYTON — Jeremy Jones reached the point in his life a few years ago where he had to make a decision.
Was he going to continue as a basketball coach at Northwestern Oklahoma State University, or was he going to make a turn down a different avenue?
It turns out the grind of college recruiting and constant travel helped make that decision for him.
“There’s times I was gone for a month-and-a-half without seeing my kids. So I’d come home and my youngest didn’t even know who I was,” Jones said. “OK, everybody has that time in their life where they have to make a decision: Money and this? Or family?”
Bags packed, Jones went to Malad, Idaho — he has family there — and coached girls basketball at Malad High for three seasons before coming to Layton Christian Academy in advance of the 2019-20 school year.
With a mostly new roster composed mostly of international students, a new coach and a new way of doing things, LCA had the best turnaround season of any prep basketball team in Weber, Davis or Box Elder counties.
The Eagles went from an 8-15 record in 2018-19 to a 19-5 record in 2019-20 — with a perfect 12-0 mark in Region 17.
Jones is the 2020 All-Area Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.
Jones isn’t unfamiliar to LCA or Northern Utah. He attended Weber State, briefly helped out as a student assistant when Joe Cravens was the men’s basketball coach and previously coached at LCA as an assistant under boys basketball coach Bobby Porter.
Jones spent eight years at the college ranks at Northwestern Oklahoma State, a Division II school in Alva, Oklahoma, about 150 miles northwest of Oklahoma City.
One thing the college game did prepare him for was for the unique roster makeup at LCA, which has mostly international students.
The girls basketball team had players from Rwanda, Chile, Spain, Vietnam and “a couple Americans,” meaning there was a big emphasis on bringing players from different countries and cultures together as one team.
In theory, it’s not much different from the college level, where roster fluidity and geographical variation are the norm.
“Did we have some deficiencies because of it? Absolutely. With only having one senior and having everybody back (next season), now they understand what is expected and stuff like that. For the most part, I was just blessed with kids that were wanting to play some basketball,” Jones said.
If the Eagles had a standout player, it was sophomore point guard Patricia “Patty” Ramirez, who averaged 21 points and 3.9 steals per game, shot 46.6% from the field and was one of the top scorers in the state.
Ramirez had 11 games of 20-plus points, including 32 in a nine-point win over Park City and 40 points in a region win against Rockwell.
Jones was excited about the challenge of the LCA job and bringing together a mostly international group of players. In particular, there was a lot of focus on helping players adjust to the pace of the American style of basketball.
“I knew that international basketball is sped-up, it’s a little different in the United States. I knew that was going to be our biggest challenge was slowing down. Like Patty, slowing her down to where — ‘Hey this is a good shot, but we can get this shot that you took five passes into our offense, instead of coming down and shooting that right off the bat,’” Jones said.
In particular, the Eagles made waves for their defense that allowed just 30.1 points per game this season despite going only six or seven players deep most games, according to Jones.
They were aggressive defenders and tried to force drives to the baseline to avoid the drive-and-kick scenarios that are more common now.
If a drive did come down the middle, 6-foot-5 post player Celine Murkura averaged 4.1 blocks per game.
“First year, if you play defense, you play hard, you’re going to win some games. Then you can start adding things your second and third (year),” Jones said.
LCA started the season 8-0, but the game that told Jones the Eagles had a chance to be really good came in their third region game of the season, at Waterford.
The Eagles led by 31 after three quarters and won by 18 on the road against the team that would eventually finish second in Region 17, with its only region losses against LCA.
The Eagles were seeded fifth in the 2A state playoffs, then the sparkling season came to a quick end against No. 12 Duchesne in the second round at Snow College.
“Eyes were big, they were scared for the playoffs. I’m going to be mad about that game until next year,” Jones said.
LCA’s normally talkative locker room was dead quiet before the game, Jones said. The team simply hadn’t been in an environment such as that before.
The Eagles were within eight points at halftime, then got outscored 27-12 after halftime and lost 58-35.
For the most part, the private schools got pasted in the 2A tournament: St. Joseph lost at home in the first round by 32 points to a lower seed, and both Waterford and Rowland Hall lost by double digits to lower seeds in the second round.
Jones thought he and his team needed to prepare better.
“Coach K said the way you get your kids to not be scared at tournament time is preparation and our first year not being real deep, practices at that time of year are really important,” Jones said.
He also said the team’s schedule did it no favors.
LCA’s season had scorelines such as 72-20, 60-19, 58-4, 94-19, 68-6, 84-16 and 79-19.
Sure, it shows how much better the Eagles were against most of their schedule, but when only four regular-season games were decided by 10 or less points, teams in general don’t get as much crunch-time experience.
Jones misses the college level and, someday, he says he wants to go back that route, but his youngest daughter is 1 1/2 years old, so he thinks it’ll be awhile before he considers it.
That said, the team’s five top scorers were juniors and sophomores, so if things return to normal by the start of the 2020-21 school year, there’s a lot for Jones to be excited about.