Air Jordan may be all the rage in the NBA, but Air Jones rules at
Purdue. Not only does Tony Jones, the Boilermakers' senior point
guard, pilot a team that soared to a surprising 7-1 start, but he can
also fly. You want hang time? Jones has already logged more than 300
hours in the air -- in a plane. He is enrolled in the university's
aviation technology program and will be qualified to pilot a 727
aircraft when he graduates in the spring.
As a child, Jones became enthralled with flying by watching planes
pass overhead at his home near Baer Field in Fort Wayne, Ind. He
picked Purdue largely because of its aviation program and made his
first solo flight as a freshman, doing, he says, ''a few
touch-and-go's'' around West Lafayette in a Cherokee Warrior. Now,
about half of his flight hours are solo. ''It's peaceful up there
when you're flying,'' says Jones.
Jones didn't tell coach Gene Keady about his first solo flight
until a few weeks later. ''We knew Tony wanted to fly when he came to
Purdue,'' says Keady. ''We were pretty skeptical at first. Then after
about six weeks in his freshman year, I said, 'Tony, when are you
going to go solo?' He said, 'Coach, I soloed two weeks ago.' ''
Jones's fascination with flight hasn't hindered his basketball
career. On the contrary, he claims learning to fly has hastened his
improvement by making him more mature. A pilot must ''do things
professionally, be in control and think ahead,'' says Jones, who as
of Sunday led the Boilermakers in scoring (15.6 points a game) and
assists (5.5).
''This is only a guess,'' says Keady, who last summer picked Jones
for the U.S. team that won the gold at the World University Games.
''I think flying makes Tony a little more organized. You have to make
a flight plan. You can't miscalculate speed or altitude.''
Still, Keady hasn't flown with his floor pilot, but not for lack
of confidence. ''Sure, I would go up with him,'' says Keady.
Jones has flown solo to Grand Rapids, Mich.; Ottumwa, Iowa;
Champaign, Ill.; and the Indiana cities of Muncie, Terre Haute, Fort
Wayne and Bloomington. On the return trip from Bloomington, the
weather was so cloudy that he had to radio Grissom Air Force Base to
regain his bearings. ''I wasn't lost,'' says Jones, ''but I wasn't
seeing Lafayette, either. I should have used my flight plan. I had
one, but I got overconfident, I guess.''
And that's as much a no-no for pilots as it is for point guards.

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