The smell of a freshly waxed hardwood floor with a faint hint of buttered popcorn filled the tightly packed Levien Gymnasium, home of the Columbia Lions.
The gentle whir of the air conditioning accompanied the symphony of squeaking shoes, rhythmic dribbling, cheers, and whistles.
But it was all just quiet white noise as 6-foot-8 forward Dylan Jones took his first step onto the hardwood. It was nothing new. After all, Jones had been a captain for his basketball team in high school and even earned his team’s Best Defensive Player award three times. But this time it was different.
The crowd’s roar came to a brief pause. The referee blew his whistle, indicating the start of the game. The ball was tossed into the air, and with that, Jones had his first collegiate basketball start.
Winning the jump and quickly pushing the ball down the court, the Quakers kicked the game off with a quick bucket. It was Columbia’s turn to answer. Getting an easy lane to the basket, Columbia guard Meiko Lyles went for the easy layup. Leaping into the air and with a swift motion of the arm, Jones swatted the ball away, preventing the would-be layup.
Today, Jones is still standing on freshly waxed hardwood floors. He still smells the soft trace of popcorn in the air. But now he has swapped out the Red and Blue threads for more casual attire. He still sees the court and hears the orchestra of basketball sounds, but this time, it’s from the media room of NBA arenas.
Almost seven years after his first start in his freshman year, Jones is now an assistant video coordinator for the Houston Rockets. A crucial part of any NBA coaching staff, Jones is responsible for using video editing software to compile breakdowns of specific techniques or plays. Some of his responsibilities include analyzing his team’s performance in any given game and scouting opponents to inform future practice sessions and film study meetings.
But this isn’t at all what Jones imagined for himself during college.
Unsure of what he wanted for his future, Jones initially decided to pursue something other than sports. After graduating from Penn, Jones immediately went onto Rice to get his master’s degree in global affairs, concentrating in cybersecurity.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in life when it came to working, because I didn’t feel happy with cybersecurity,” Jones said. “I knew I wanted to work in either music, media, or sports, so I was on the job hunt.”
Breaking into any of these industries, however, was no easy task. Jones had to rely on connections he’d made in the past to help get him in the front door. With the help of former Penn basketball coach and alumnus Jerome Allen, he ended up taking an internship with the Boston Celtics.
Trying to move up within the Boston basketball team, Jones applied for an assistant video coordinator role. To his disappointment, Jones did not get the job. But that didn’t mean the door had closed on video coordinating for an NBA team.
Hearing from Allen that the Houston Rockets were looking for a new video coordinator, Jones was put in touch with the Rockets' head coach, Stephen Silas.
“Coach Silas gave me an interview through the phone,” Jones said. “In all honesty, I didn’t think he was going to offer me the job [on the spot]. I thought we were just going to introduce ourselves, but I’m glad he offered me the job, and I feel blessed to have this opportunity.”
Now that he has finally landed the position he’s had his eyes on, Jones hardly has time to rest.
On practice days, Jones is at the Rockets’ facility at 8:30 a.m. to receive his daily COVID-19 test. After the test, he helps Coach Silas prepare film to show the players, and sets up the practice courts. The morning is followed by a coaching staff meeting at 11 a.m., and finally, film sessions or practice will kick off by around noon.
But as the age-old saying goes, there’s no rest for the weary. After practice concludes, Jones is either helping edit the practice video or labeling a scout video for their next matchup.
On game days, it’s more of the same: get a COVID-19 test, set up pregame film, and help walk through the opponents for the team. When the game starts, Jones is back in the media room live-editing the film.
When Jones does have a day off, you can find him working as a DJ — as he did during his undergraduate years at Penn — reading comic books, or learning about cars. He's working towards getting a car dealer’s license.
While Jones ended up pursuing his passion for basketball professionally, he could have easily followed one of his many other interests that he cultivated at Penn. For Penn students who are also struggling to find where their passions and future careers align, Jones has one piece of advice:
“Make sure to explore places outside of the Penn bubble and get to know people at the schools near Penn. Establish these relationships with people and grow a network.”