BERKELEY (AP) — Early in his career as a college assistant at Pepperdine, Wyking Jones knew he wanted to be a head coach one day.
After stints as an assistant learning from respected coaches like Rick Pitino, Steve Alford and Cuonzo Martin, Jones’ time has arrived. Jones was introduced Wednesday as Martin’s replacement at California, where he had spent the past two seasons as an assistant.
“I’ve learned from such great coaches and studied them all so I don’t envision it being as tough a challenge as you might think because every guy I’ve worked with has been successful,” Jones said. “I’m ready to be that guy today.”
Jones got his chance when Martin left for Missouri earlier this month after only three seasons at Cal. Athletic director Mike Williams immediately made Jones the interim coach while conducting his search.
Williams said he had been pleased by the success of the program in recent years under Martin and his predecessor Mike Montgomery and wanted to keep the Golden Bears on the path that has led to five NCAA Tournament berths in the past nine seasons.
“That’s where we are as a basketball program,” Williams said. “We have a very solid foundation. We got that from Coach Montgomery and Coach Martin. We think we can continue to build on that and Wyking is the coach to do that. ... I do think we’re on an upward trajectory and I don’t want to see us fall back.”
Cal is a natural fit for Jones. His wife, Estrella, was born in Berkeley, and four generations of her family are from there. Jones hoped to play at Cal in the 1990s, only to have the scholarship he hoped to get given to Monty Buckley instead.
Jones then played at Loyola Marymount, where he started his coaching career, before going to Pepperdine, New Mexico, Louisville and eventually Cal. His time at Louisville under Pitino was most influential as the Cardinals won a national title, made another trip to the Final Four and Jones got a coaching clinic each day from Pitino.
“The overall game planning really sets him apart from a lot of other coaches and his attention to detail,” he said.
“He leaves no stone unturned. What coach was great at was making adjustments, seeing that maybe our initial game plan didn’t work so let’s do something different rather than stick with the plan over and over and get a loss.”
Jones plans to bring some of Pitino’s playing style to Cal, which had a top-level defense under Martin but often struggled offensively. Jones said he plans to use more presses and traps on defense in hopes of creating easy baskets offensively.
He also wants to play at a faster pace on offense and plans to improve the conditioning of his players to handle the up-tempo style.
“The press almost becomes a part of your offense,” he said. “That’s what I believe.”
The players are excited about the news. They celebrated when finding out Jones would be interim coach and then got even more enthusiastic when he got the full-time job.
Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee, who was recruited by Jones during his time at Louisville, said he wanted to make the 45-minute drive from home to campus when he heard last week that Jones got the job.
“We were all kind of hoping it would end up being Coach Wyking,” he said. “There’s no better person for us. Our team really loves him.”
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