The Times West Virginian

Sports

June 14, 2014

WVU players leaving their mark on the world

MORGANTOWN — Eat your heart out, Tony Caridi.

We remember the days when John Flowers was playing basketball at West Virginia, living life above the rim, blocking shots and creating some monstrous dunks.

In fact, we can almost hear you making the call:

John Flowers drives toward the basket. He soars high above the rim. Oh, my goodness, what a dunk!

Times change, but John Flowers doesn’t.

He’s still living life above the rim, only nowadays this is the call:

John Fleurs lecteurs vers le panier. Il s'élève au-dessus de la jante. Oh, mon dieu, quel dunk!

John Flowers, you see, played his basketball in France this year and led his team, JL Bourg from Bourg-en-Bresse, to the LNB Pro B championship, the first championship of his career. He scored 17 points in the championship game.

For Alex Ruoff it’s more of the same, Tony Caridi.

A few years back you were calling them this way:

Alex Ruoff has the ball deep on the right side. He launches a long three. GOOD!

Like Flowers, Ruoff is still doing his thing, only the call goes this way:

Alex Ruoff hat den Ball tief auf der rechten Seite. Er startet eine lange drei. GUT!

And, like Flowers, Ruoff led his BG Goettingen team in Germany to the Pro-A championship, scoring nine points with eight assists and six rebounds in the championship game after averaging 17 points a game for the year.

World wide now, West Virginia University basketball players are strutting their stuff.

This past year Truck Bryant went from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Austria to have a banner season; Da’Sean Butler has proved his knee to be completely recovered, starring for Okapi Aalstar in Belgium,  Marcus Goree continued to excel overseas, this year playing in Brazil and the veteran D’Or Fischer, who has traveled the world, played big, as always, with Brose Baskets in Germany.

And then there is Joe Alexander, who is fighting back from injuries, had a good season in the NBA Developmental League and has been weighing a chance to play in his native Taiwan over the summer.

European basketball has allowed the Mountaineer players to continue their careers on a professional level while hoping against hope that their dream will be answered and someone from the NBA will come calling.

And then there’s Kevin Jones, who like Alexander, a first-round draft pick of Milwaukee, has tasted the NBA and wound up this year in the D-League and spent the last couple of months playing in the Philippines.

It’s different, this overseas basketball, but it is a game with a purpose, as Jones related the other day upon returning to Morgantown and serving at Bob Huggins’ Fantasy Camp.

The purpose is obvious.

“Hopefully I’ll get to my ultimate goal,” he said.

He understands the system, been part of it since graduating from WVU in 2012 with a 13.1 scoring average capped off with 19.9 points a game as a senior while grabbing off more than 1,000 career rebounds, one of only five players in school history to reach that figure.

Jones was undrafted and signed by the Cleveland Cavaliers, played in the D-League before being called up in 2012-13 where he played sparingly and then was released.

“It’s a lot about the numbers game and getting to the right situation. It’s not always about who has the most talent. There’s a lot of talented guys who are not in the NBA right now who should be,” he said. “It’s all about fit and timing.”

And that is what led him to the Philippines after having played a second season in the D-League.

He had a taste of the big time.

“You want more. That’s what’s keeping me going, that taste of getting back there and enjoying that experience again,” he said.

A star?

No, Kevin Jones is miscast if you want that from him. That was proven in college. When he was surrounded with Final Four talent he was a great supplemental scorer and big time rebounder, relying on a relentless work ethic rather than natural talent to do his thing.

It got him to the NBA and he now says he believes he can do the same there.

“Definitely,” he said. “The first time I felt like I could do this was when I got my first double-double against the Sixers. I felt like I really belonged.

“It was just a great accomplishment for me. Ever since that day I promised myself to work hard to get back there,” he added. “As long as my body allows I’m going to keep trying to get back there. When you get older, your priorities change. You look more for the future than for right now.”

And that is what got him to the Philippines.

He felt he wasn’t going anywhere in the Cavaliers organization, playing at Canton as an All-Star, and when the opportunity came to play for the San Miguel Beermen in the Philippines, he asked for his release and was granted it by former Mountaineer Mike Gansey, who serves as the Cavaliers’ director of D-League operations.

"We would like to thank Kevin for all of the hard work and dedication he showed over his two seasons here with the Charge," Gansey said at the time. "He is a talented player, great person and we wish him the best of luck in his decision to go play overseas."

“If there are offers overseas that are pretty good and I know my chances are limited in the NBA, I have to follow those offers,” Jones explained the other day.

It isn’t really basketball as you came to know it. The adjustment period is tougher, tougher even than when you are an 18 or 19-year-old kid going off to college for the first time.

There are a lot of adjustments to be made, especially halfway around the world, as he was.

“It’s tough. You’re away from family. You are away from everything you know, everything you are comfortable with,” he said.

Think about it. It isn’t like a two-week vacation in London.

“It was a crazy experience. I was only over there for two months and I know how I felt. I can only guess what it’s like for guys who are there for six or seven months. You just have to make so much of a culture adjustment that it’s hard,” he said.

“It wasn’t New York. It wasn’t West Virginia. It wasn’t anything you were used to. I think once you accept where you are and accept that culture and try not to fight it by doing your own thing, that’s when you start becoming more comfortable,” he said.

He spent a lot of time talking with Truck Bryant, his former roommate at WVU and fellow New Yorker, about the adjustment period.

“I talked to him about how he adjusted and how he got over the adjustment of being out there alone. He said just try to keep in contact with everyone back home and to just try to fit yourself into the culture without fighting it,” Jones said.

And that was what he tried to do, but it wasn’t easy.

He said the toughest part of adjusting was the attention he drew.

“All the staring. Everyone would just stare at me,” he said. “I mean, everyone seemed to be under 6 feet. And there was all the attention I got once I started playing well. They love basketball there, so they recognize basketball.”

Mostly, he tried to stay with what he knew.

“I tried not to get too much into the local food,” he said. “They have a lot of American restaurants there. I ate at Chili’s, Outback … all those places.”

And unlike Ruoff or Flowers or Bryant, they spoke English in the Philippines, which made the transition easier.

Jones is about to play in a summer league and hopes to catch on in the prestigious Las Vegas summer league, which draws a lot of attention from NBA scouts as he looks for another chance.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel

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