by Patrick Gustavson
Over the past four years, Mustafa Jones has become a fixture for Central Connecticut’s men’s basketball team.
The lanky 6-foot-7-inch forward, known for his left-handed shot and athletic goggles, has appeared in at least 26 games for the Blue Devils in each of his four seasons with the team.
However, despite the substantial playing time and personal success, Jones’ first three years were plagued by losing.
In Jones’ freshman and sophomore season, under legendary coach Howie Dickenman, the Blue Devils combined for a record of 9-51.
Things did not get much better in the first season under current head coach Donyell Marshall, with the team winning just six games last year.
All in all, the Blue Devils managed just 15 wins in Jones’ first three years, failing to reach the Northeast Conference tournament, something Jones called “depressing.”
However, things began to change in the current season. The Blue Devils went 7-6 in a tough non-conference schedule, already surpassing their win total from the previous season.
Part of this was thanks to Jones, who eclipsed double-figures in all but three of the 13 contests, scoring a career-high 24 points against UMass Lowell on Dec. 23.
Following a strong start to their NEC schedule, it appeared Jones and his teammates would be destined to reach the NEC tournament.
However, the team went on a tough five-game losing streak, that put their hopes in jeopardy. Despite the struggles, Jones and his teammates still felt confident in their ability to reach the postseason.
“We knew that we were a team that’s capable of making the playoffs,” he said. “We may not have played our best at times, or it just wasn’t there for us.”
Jones feels this year’s team is different than in previous years.
“We have the desire to go get it,” Jones said. “Everybody holds everybody else accountable. We all lay it on the floor for each other. Every teammate has a good relationship with one another. We’re all on the same page. We all have the same goal as one another.”
On Saturday, the Blue Devils took on Saint Francis (BKN), just one win away from clinching that coveted playoff spot.
Jones scored 14 points to go with eight rebounds, on the heels of just a two-point showing against Wagner. His emotion was prevalent throughout the game. Late in the second half, Jones had an emphatic slam dunk, bringing the bench and the crowd to their feet. However, in the heat of the moment, he smacked the backboard with his other hand, prompting an administrative technical foul from the officials.
Following the game, Marshall was not upset with Jones’ move.
“Somebody got a technical for smacking the backboard, but I don’t mind it because the emotion was there,” Marshall said while looking directly at Jones.
The Blue Devils upset the Terriers, and are on their way to their first NEC tournament appearance in the last four seasons.
“The past couple years have been tough and not great,” Jones said. “But today, to go out there and earn it is amazing. It’s a dream come true. We’re all very excited.”
Jones said he will miss being a part of the team and the school, the thing he will miss the most is the fans.
“The fans, the atmosphere that they bring here to the team. We come out here every day and practice and play. For it to be our last game here, it was bittersweet,” Jones said.
Jones will graduate in May with a degree in Communications, and a focus in Public Relations. He’s hoping for a PR job somewhere in his future, but not until his basketball career is over. And Jones says there’s a lot of basketball left in him, even after he leaves Central.