Looking Back - Popeye Jones


Courtesy Murray State Media RelationsFrom a story written in 2011...

Few players have excited the imagination of Racer fans the way Ronald “Popeye” Jones did in the early 1990's.

A three-time All-OVC selection, Jones earned Player of the Year honors in 1991 and '92. He was also named Athlete of the Year in '91 and '92, meaning that out of all the thousands of athletes in all the sports that the OVC sponsors he was deemed to be the very best.

He is Murray State's all-time leading rebounder, is fourth on the career scoring list, and was named MSU's Player of the Century in a January, 2000 Racer Insider poll.

Not bad for a kid from Dresden, Tenn. who only had two scholarship offers coming out of high school.
“There wasn't much to do in Dresden except play ball,” he recalled. “I started out playing baseball but it wasn't long before I began playing football and basketball too. Our school was so small everybody played all three sports.

“So, I never had the opportunity to concentrate on one sport and work on getting better. When it was baseball season I played baseball. When it was football season I played football. And when it was basketball season I played basketball.”

Despite growing up 45 minutes from Racer Arena, the youngster never made it to a Murray State game. He was a Pacer fan, a UT-Martin Pacer fan.

“I grew up eight miles from the University of Tennessee at Martin and I went to a lot of their games,” he recalled. “But they didn't offer me a scholarship. I was 6-8, weighed 320 pounds, and the coach there didn't think I could play. Austin Peay didn't recruit me either. Their head coach Lake Kelly said he'd retire if a team I played for ever beat him in a college game.”

Despite being named Tennessee's Class A Mr. Basketball, the only D-I schools to offer Jones a scholarship were Murray State and Lamar.

“I felt Murray was a perfect fit for me,” he recalled. “They had a lot of tradition. I remember watching the Ron Greene Show on Sunday nights when I was growing up and after that the Steve Newton Show. I watched them beat North Carolina State on TV and then one of the assistant coaches called me after the game. That really meant a lot to me. I had never dreamed that I would play basketball on TV.

“When I came to Murray for my recruiting visit I met Jeff Martin and Don Mann and they asked me if I was a football player or a basketball player. After I signed I didn't touch a basketball all summer. I played baseball. I was a pitcher and a shortstop. Even as a kid I played shortstop. I think it helped me develop my hands. I didn't move very well but I was always positioned well. We won a state championship my junior year.

“Even though it was only 45 minutes away when I left to go to Murray when as a freshman I felt like I was going far away to go to school. And then when I got there and went for my physical I was too heavy for the scale. I had to go get weighed where the football linemen got weighed, over in the mail room.”

By the team the season started Jones was down to 285. He wanted to redshirt but head coach Steve Newton knew he needed Jones on the floor even though his lack of conditioning limited his playing time.

“He was a signature signing for us,” former Racer head coach Steve Newton declared. “He had a major impact on basketball at Murray State University. He took us to another level. And he's a legendary figure in Murray.”