Keeping Up With the Greg Joneses: A Brief History of WVU's Most Popular Name

The most common name in Mountaineer history
Author:
Publish date:

There are numerous iconic names in the history of West Virginia athletics. Jerry West, “Hot Rod” Hundley, Major Harris, Pat White, and Da’Sean Butler are but a few of the timeless figures that stand out through the years of Mountaineer sports.

However, there is one name that appears across the record books in the Coliseum and Milan Puskar Stadium that is often noted, not for the accomplishments of its holders, which are admittedly many, but for the uncommon consistency with which it appears throughout Mountaineer lore.

This is, of course, is referring to Greg Jones.

Now, for West Virginia fans of varying ages, that name likely conjures up several different emotions and memories, each one different depending on the era in which they grew up. For those that do not know, through the history of Mountaineer sports, there has not been a name seen time and again, in three different sports and spanning 25 years, more than Greg Jones.

As a result, it seems fitting to dig a little deeper into each man that contributed to the legacy of this hallowed name and possibly look into why so many men who shared the same nine letters chose Morgantown as their home for four years.

The Original Greg Jones (Basketball, 1979-83)

West Virginia University went 112 years without an athlete named Greg Jones. That all changed when men’s basketball coach Gale Catlett recruited a high-scoring guard from Youngstown, Ohio.

Little did he know the trend he had just created.

The original Greg Jones spent his freshman season coming off the bench in a limited role, learning behind a pair of veteran guards in seniors Lowes Moore and Joe Fryz. That year, he averaged 4.7 points per game, a very quiet start to what would become a dynamic career.

With Moore and Fryz graduated heading into the 1980-81 season, Jones vaulted into the starting lineup and hit the ground running. In the first of three straight 20-win seasons for the Mountaineers, his minutes ticked up from 13.1 per game to 36.2 as his scoring prowess was put on display for the first time.

Scoring 15.5 points and dishing out 4.7 assists each night as a sophomore, he was named first team all-Eastern 8 Conference as West Virginia went to the postseason for the first time in 13 years. As the Mountaineers made a run to the NIT semifinals, Jones averaged better than 14 points per game, highlighted by a 20 point and 8 assist performance in the quarterfinals to knock off Minnesota.

Going into his junior season, Jones would be relied on even more as second-leading scorer Greg Nance graduated. He maintained his consistent play while others like Russel Todd stepped up behind him.

Junior averages of 15.1 points and 3.6 assists per game earned Jones his second consecutive first-team all conference selection in addition to Eastern 8 Player of the Year honors. His second straight starring season helped lead West Virginia to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1967.

Going into his senior season there were two major changes that meant big things for Jones’ last college year. One, the Eastern 8 added to its ranks and rebranded as the Atlantic 10. Second, and more importantly, the three-point line was added to college basketball.

With this new weapon, Jones became an even more dangerous player, seeing his scoring average skyrocket to 22.3 points per game while knocking down 43.5% of his triples. That was good enough for him to be named first team all-conference for the third straight season and earn the inaugural Atlantic 10 Player of the Year award.

His career was capped off by yet another NCAA Tournament appearance and an Atlantic 10 championship, making it the first time since 1960 that the Mountaineers went to the postseason three years in a row. At the end of his four seasons, Jones finished with 1,797 career points, still good enough for sixth in school history, as well as a then-school record 251 steals, surpassed only by Jevon Carter, and the eighth-most assists by a Mountaineer.

He went on to be drafted in the third round of the NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers and later became a multiple time All-Star in the Continental Basketball Association. He was inducted into the WVU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.

Transfer Greg Jones (Football, 1988-90)

After Browning Nagle transferred from West Virginia at the end of a quarterback battle deserving of a history all its own, Don Nehlen needed to find a backup for the soon-to-be superstar Major Harris. He was able to do so when a signal-caller named what else but Greg Jones decided he had enough of sitting behind Steve Walsh at Miami.

Sitting behind the vaunted Harris for two years, he saw a few opportunities but none were more important than his appearance in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame. With Harris suffering a shoulder injury early in the game, Jones came on while the dual-threat quarterback was being evaluated.

In that time, he went just 1-4 through the air for eight yards and an interception. As Harris returned to the sideline, Nehlen decided to go back to his injured starter, but the damage was done.

With his injury wiping out a large part of the game plan, the Mountaineers struggled to move the ball and only reached midfield just before halftime. The Fighting Irish would prevail, 26-13.

It would be over a year before Greg Jones got another shot but with Harris gone in 1990, he grabbed the starting job for his senior season. In a full campaign under center, he commanded a well-balanced running attack while adding a dangerous presence through the air.

Slinging the ball for 1,481 yards and seven touchdowns, Jones led the Mountaineers to a 4-7 record as much of that powerful 1988 squad had moved on. Throughout his career, he brought some versatility under center and performed admirably when put in the starter’s role.

He is now the Dean of Discipline at the Jan Mann Educational Center in Miami Gardens, Florida.

The Secret Greg Jones (Football, 1988-90)

The legend of Greg Jones at West Virginia goes so deep that there is even a secret Greg Jones who played football at the same time as the quarterback. He likely even caught passes in practice from his namesake.

Lining up at wide receiver from 1988-90, Greg P. Jones went by the name “Pete” during his time in gold and blue but managed to make little impact. He played in just five career games, returning a kick for 14 yards in 1989 and not recording any stats in 1990.

Despite the little effect he had, the mere existence of the “secret” Greg Jones only adds to the mystique the name holds at West Virginia.

The Junior College Greg Jones (Basketball, 1997-98)

One of the greatest assemblies of talent Mountaineer basketball has ever seen was the 1998 team that went to the Sweet 16. A major piece of that core was a junior college transfer from Washington, D.C. that brought prodigious scoring of the bench.

His name was Greg Jones.

Despite streaky consistency, he managed to become one of the most exciting players in West Virginia basketball history with the ball in his hands. A candidate to explode on the stat sheet every night, his dynamic scoring ability made him a player to watch throughout his senior season.

Possibly the most iconic moment of his career came in the Coliseum against Connecticut, nearing the end of the 1997-98 season. After a career performance a few nights before against St. John’s, Jones earned his first career start against the sixth-ranked Huskies.

While UConn was led by Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin, it was Jones’ night to shine with 18 points in just 28 minutes of play, including four key three-pointers. After a tough road loss to St. John’s, the Mountaineers needed a spark to push them down the homestretch of the season.

This upset victory solidified West Virginia’s NCAA Tournament resume and Greg Jones was the man who led the way.

The National Champion Greg Jones (Wrestling, 2001-2005)

The second WVU Hall of Famer to share the name, the most successful wrestler in school history was inducted just this past year. Following his older brother Vertus to Morgantown, the Slickville, Pennsylvania native had immediate success once he put on the gold and blue singlet on.

As a freshman in 2001-02, Jones already began setting school records with the best freshman mark ever at West Virginia, finishing the season 34-2 split between the 167 and 174 pound weight classes.

Heading into the postseason, the dominant rookie continued his mean streak, winning the Eastern Wrestling League championship at 174 pounds, the first of four conference titles. Better yet, he made a stellar run through the NCAA Tournament, claiming his first national championship as a freshman.

After a sophomore season that saw Jones claim another conference title but end in a disappointing finish in the national tournament, he returned with a vengeance in 2004. Moving up a weight class to 184 pounds, he became the first Mountaineer wrestler to collect an undefeated season, finishing 26-0.

With a third conference title, he headed into the NCAA Tournament looking to prove a point after being the first number one seed ever knocked out in the opening round the year before. He did just that, winning his first round match 22-7 before rattling off four more wins in a row to claim his second national championship in three years while being named NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Wrestler.

Jones’ dominance continued during his senior season with another conference crown, a third national title, and a 25-0 record to finish his career on a 51-match winning streak. He competed at the prestigious National Wrestling Coaches Association All-Star Classic three times, finishing 3-0, and twice won the Red Brown Cup as WVU’s most outstanding student-athlete.

After his stellar career, Jones went on to become an assistant coach under Craig Turnbull at his alma mater. He left collegiate coaching after Turnbull was fired in 2014.

Upon leaving the college ranks, Jones has become one of the most in-demand wrestling coaches in mixed martial arts. Beginning his career with the highly touted Blackzilians team, he is now the wrestling coach for Hard Knocks 365 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Under the Hard Knocks 365 banner, he currently trains UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and light heavyweight contender Volkan Oezdemir.

Jones is not only a part of the Greg Jones dynasty, he is part of a family dynasty at West Virginia. Joining him in the 2019 Hall of Fame class was his older brother Vertus, a two-time national runner-up.

He was later able to coach his younger brother Donnie, a four-time NCAA qualifier in his own right.

It seems rather fitting that of all men named Greg Jones to come through West Virginia, the latest would be the most decorated.

West Virginia University is currently in its longest period of Greg Jones-free athletics since the very first enrolled in 1980. When looking at the trends of names over the years, it's clear to see why.

When the first two when the original Greg Jones and transfer Greg Jones were born in the 1960s, the longer form Gregory was the 23rd most popular baby name in the United States while the given name Greg ranked 100th. When junior college Greg Jones was born in the 1970s, Gregory had slid to 29th while Greg fell out of the top 200, where it has yet to return.

It would get progressively worse, with Gregory dropping to 45th when national champion Greg Jones was born in the 1980s. From then on it would dive drastically to 75th in the 1990s and 191st in the 2000s before finally falling out of the top 200 in the 2010s.

West Virginia has not had a basketball-playing Greg since the late 1990s while the last football player to go by a form of the name was punter Gregg Pugnetti from 2007-2010. There has not been a Greg to don the gold and blue since soccer player Greg Judge transferred in 2011.

As the name Greg appears to be disappearing, not only at WVU but across the country, Mountaineer fans will always look back fondly on the legacy of Greg Jones.