Wyking Jones was an unexpected choice to be the new head basketball coach for the California Golden Bears, but the story of his career is even more surprising. Over the last 20 years, he has played basketball in numerous countries, rubbed elbows with major recruits, and even acted in Hollywood movies. That’s right, Jones made his acting debut in 1999 when he appeared in The Wood. He also had minor roles in Brown Sugar, Dope and The Benchwarmers. Jones developed an interest in acting after taking a film class at Loyola Marymount. He co-produced a movie called Studio and admits to having written several screenplays over the years. Nevertheless, one thing becomes clear when you look at his life as a whole: the man lives and breathes hoops.
Jones played basketball at LMU beginning with the 1992-93 season. Jones said he chose to play there because he was comfortable with assistant coach Bruce Woods, who treated him as more than just an athlete. Jones averaged 12.3 points per game overall. In his best season of ‘93-’94, Jones averaged 19.7 points and 8 rebounds. After college, he played professionally in Italy before returning to Loyola Marymount in an assistant role. Subsequently, Jones got another opportunity playing for Étendard de Brest in France. By 1998, Jones found himself in the Middle East, scoring 16 per game for Tadamon in Lebanon. The final portion of his career took place in Asia, where he joined Tokyo Big Blue in Japan through the year 2000. Finally, he was a member of Goyang Orions in South Korea until 2001.
His next position was assistant coach at Pepperdine, where he assisted head coach Paul Westphal and served as recruiting coordinator from 2002 until 2006. He then became the travel team manager of Nike Elite Youth Basketball for two years. When he was hired as an assistant by New Mexico in 2009, Lobos head coach Steve Alford mentioned that Jones was desirable as a recruiter thanks to his Nike experience. Jones proved his mettle by luring forward Drew Gordon to transfer from UCLA to New Mexico. Gordon would average a double-double during his two seasons in Albuquerque.
Jones became an assistant at Louisville in 2011 after Rick Pitino heard several glowing reviews. Jones helped recruit big men Mangok Mathiang from Australia and Anas Mahmoud from Egypt, who were both solid contributors to this year’s Louisville team. Jones explained: “Whether a player is from overseas or Chicago or L.A., our job is to help them get better.” The Cardinals would reach the Final Four in 2012 and followed that up by winning the 2013 national title. They’d reach the Sweet 16 in 2014 and Elite 8 in 2015. During his tenure, Louisville had a record of 123-30.
However, Jones jumped at the opportunity to return to the West Coast when Cuonzo Martin offered him an assistant job at Cal in 2015. Jones replaced Jon Harris, who departed to become the head coach at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. Jones was instrumental in getting forward Marcus Lee to transfer to Cal from Kentucky. Lee said of Jones: “I saw him being able to do great things, and to start his head coaching career with him as my head coach is the best thing I could picture happening.”
Cal Athletic Director Mike Williams was expected to make an outside hire after Martin took the head coach job at Missouri. Jones had been named interim coach on March 15 but didn’t figure to keep that title for long. However, on March 24 Williams announced that Jones would be the new head coach. According to Williams: “He has an affinity for Cal and its values, he has developed strong relationships with the student-athletes he coaches, and he has experienced success at the highest levels of the sport.”
Jones appears to be well-liked by the returning players and most of the incoming recruits. Unfortunately, Martin’s departure did lead to the decommitting of guard Jemarl Baker, and the transfer of Charlie Moore was a big blow. On the bright side for Cal, recruits Justice Sueing, Trevin Knell, Juhwan Harris-Dyson, and Grant Anticevich are remaining with the program. There should be plenty of opportunity for the incoming freshmen to contribute down the line under Jones’ tutelage.