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Teammates Jay Jones, Ryan Altman commit to Penn's 2025 class

06/13/2024, 11:30am EDT
By Joseph Santoliquito

By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)

The subtle missives on the court can come in a distinct look or a nonchalant nod only the two of them share. 

Jay Jones, a 6-foot-3 combo guard who comes from a deep basketball background, and 6-foot-6½ junior wing Ryan Altman carry a special silent bond. They know where each other likes the ball, and they instinctively know where the other is without seeing them. That comes with playing basketball together since they were six in the Broookline, Massachusetts, Biddy League.

(L to R) Middlesex Magic coach Chris Giordano, with Ryan Altman, Jay Jones, and Magic coach Mike Crotty. (Photo courtesy Mike Crotty)

Next season, they plan next fall on stretching their singular connection at Penn for Quakers’ coach Steve Donahue.

Jones, the son of Joe Jones, Boston University’s head coach and the nephew of James Jones, Yale’s head coach, committed to Penn on March 25. Altman committed to Donahue in person this past Saturday, June 8, on Penn’s campus.

Both play for a Middlesex Magic AAU program, under coach Mike Crotty, that has been a pipeline to Penn, sending numerous Middlesex players like Jackson Donahue and AJ Brodeur and current Quaker George Smith to Penn.

All Jay Jones and Altman, both 18, have known at The Rivers School, in Weston, Massachusetts, is winning. Together, they have led the Red Wings to three-straight New England Preparatory Schools Athletic Council (NEPSAC) Class B state championships. This coming season the two will part ways for a season, with Altman, who reclassified, staying his senior year at The Rivers School and Jay Jones taking a prep season at Cushing Academy, in Ashburnham, MA.

Jones and Altman cannot wait to begin their college careers at Penn, which went 11-18 overall last season, and 3-11 in the Ivy League—the Quakers’ worst Ivy finish since the 1956-57 season, Jack McCloskey’s first season as head coach.

It took some twisted convincing, however, to get the stellar Boston-area pair at Penn together.

Jay Jones (above) has an uncle and father who are both Division I head coaches. (Photo courtesy Middlesex Magic)

Steve Donahue was in early on both Altman and Jones. Altman received Donahue’s original offer last October. Altman then tried to convince Jones to come along. Jones was offered in February 2024 and accepted a month later.

The two spoke about playing in college together during the winter.

“Jay and I are best friends and have been playing together since we were in first grade, so I told him Penn was a great spot and the campus was great when I visited,” said Altman, who averaged 17.8 points a game his junior season. “I did not want to make a decision too early, to see what I had. Once I was 100% sure, I had to come down to Philly to tell coach Donahue in person last weekend. After Jay committed, that further convinced me. So, I tried talking Jay into Penn first, and he came around to talk me into Penn being the spot for me. Seeing Jay coming to Penn is an added benefit to an amazing place.

“Jay and I have an unspoken connection. There is a chemistry that we built and there is no stopping it. We know each other better than we know ourselves. We are always on the same page. It might come in a certain look. We have it all figured out. We know what we are going to do before the defense does. That comes from years playing together.”

Last season, Jones averaged 13 points, 4 assists and 5 rebounds a game. He said he is projected to be a point guard at Penn, which stems from a pass-first, get-everyone-involved mentality. As the son and nephew of D-I coaches, it is easy to see where Jones gets it from. There is also something else he possesses that you cannot see—a fierce streak of independence.

Whatever Jones wanted to accomplish in basketball, he wanted to do on his own—without anyone’s help. Though he is a D-I recruit, he wanted to leave no doubts going to Penn would come with no entanglements or innuendo of nepotism.

“Growing up, I wanted to be my own player, and do my own thing,” Jones said. “My dad and my uncle have been a considerable help in my development. I visited Penn in mid-March and had a run with the guys in the Palestra. It was awesome. 

“Penn has been in touch with me since my sophomore year. I told my dad since I was young that I did not want to play for him. My dad is a great coach, though we always kept that separation. My dad respects that. He wanted to keep it father-son, rather than coach-player. He taught me skills and how to play the game, but I always wanted to do my own thing. I did not want to be accused of any favoritism. I want to earn it. There was a point last summer when I was thinking about Yale, but Penn checked all my boxes. Plus, my father and my uncle love coach Donahue.

“I was already a senior at Rivers, and I was thinking of doing a prep year to physically mature more for the college level. I’m around 180 pounds and would like to play at 190 pounds. It works well. I’ll go to Penn when Ryan does.”

Ryan Altman (above) joined Jones by committing to Penn this past weekend. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Jones stressed the confidence that he and Altman possess in each other makes their tandem work. They make the other better.

“If I have the ball in my hands, and I see Ryan is getting pressured, he knows to look at me,” Jones said. “I’ll give him a nod, he knows to go backdoor and I will get him the ball. If he has the ball and is going to rim with someone closing in, he will do the same with me. It has been awesome, especially with someone as good as Ryan. Playing with him is the most fun I have ever had playing basketball.”

Crotty and Steve Donahue have a long history together, going back to Donahue’s Cornell days. Crotty knows what Penn is getting in Altman and Jones.

Both are exceptional passers, who are willing to do whatever is needed to win. Crotty has had both the last three years. They are smart, skilled, unselfish, accountable, and they are both winners.

Crotty calls them a joy to coach.

“Both of them have different ways that they can score,” Crotty said. “Jay can play the point, but he really is a combo guard. He can really shoot it and he can get downhill. Ryan is a wing that can play anywhere from two through four. He is really athletic (he is the shortstop on the Rivers baseball team). He is strong and can guard fours and guard twos. He is good mid-range, in the post and he is a great cutter, and he is starting to become a real good three-point shooter.

“I might say they are similar in that they can score in different ways, but they are not wired to score. They can score on all three levels. They are guys that make your offense better and help the team create shots, not individual one-on-one. They are versatile offensive and defensive players. They are two players without many flaws. They both can dribble, they both can rebound, and can advance the ball themselves. They effect winning all the time.”

Though they are both 18, Crotty defined them as “adults.”

“It is a proud day for me as a coach to see your players be recruited and impactful at the right level, and Penn is the perfect place for them,” Crotty said. “Steve does a great job, and these guys have a real chance to be impactful Ivy League players immediately. Penn brings that combination of academics, what Steve’s teams have done, and you have the Palestra. These guys want to help Penn get back to the top of the mountain.”

There could potentially be one speed bump down the line: The two times a year the Quakers will face Ivy League rival Yale.

“Ryan and I have won everywhere, and we plan on winning at Penn,” Jay Jones said. “I am really excited to play Yale. I think that will be a lot of fun. I’m already talking a little smack to my uncle (laughs). I would be down with playing BU, too.”


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