By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
When this rather crazy West Virginia University basketball season started there were very few givens for the Mountaineers, save for one that everyone believed:
“Enjoy Kevin Jones this year because he’ll be playing in the NBA next year.”
Well, we are down to one final home game at the Coliseum at noon Saturday against Louisville, and certainly it is going-away day for seniors Joe Mazzulla, John Flowers, Jonnie West and Casey Mitchell, but there has to be some doubt as to whether Jones, a junior, will leave without using his senior season to work on getting his shot back.
No one can argue, least of all him, that his outside shooting mysteriously deteriorated this year, his 3-point shooting percentage diving from 40.4 to 27.4 and his free-throw shooting from 66.1 percent to 56.6 percent.
Expected to be the go-to scorer when the year began, absorbing the role that Da’Sean Butler had abdicated by graduating, Jones was unable to ever really find a rhythm and, because of that, the impression he has left is of someone having a down year.
This is not necessarily the case, according to the man who most appreciates what he does, his coach, Bob Huggins.
“The thing about K.J. is he tends to make shots when you need them. He made the big 3 in the Georgetown game when they made the run at us. His rebound basket was huge for us (Wednesday night against Connecticut),” Huggins said.
“The truth is he’s played OK. He just hasn’t shot the ball very well. When you look at what he’s done, he’s played well. He shot poorly from the free-throw line and very poorly from 3. But he shot it OK from 2.”
If you think you are going to get Huggins to find fault with Jones’ game you are wrong.
“One game —the Pitt game — he couldn’t make anything around the goal,” Huggins said, thinking back to a game when Jones made 4 of 13 shots. “Generally speaking he scores around the goal for us.”
He does that by being one of the great offensive rebounders at this school, and no one places more value on the offensive boards than Huggins.
“He very well could wind up being the all-time leading offensive rebounder around here, and that says a lot. That’s what everyone knows, that he rebounds. Everyone is trying to keep you from rebounding when you get the reputation,” Huggins said.
And Jones keeps grabbing the offensive boards, just as he did in the UConn game to score at the key moment, turning a three-point lead into a five-point lead.
This is not just accidental, the fact that even in games where he is struggling, Jones finds ways to overcome it. He verbalizes the feelings inside him well.
“It’s horrible; it’s frustrating. You want the ball to go in. You want to play so well for your fans,” he said. “These are your last two games. When it doesn’t go in, you have to keep your head up. My teammates stood behind me, told me to keep playing my game and that they’d keep looking for me.”
In the meantime, Jones just goes after the rest of the game.
“I said to myself, ‘OK, your shots aren’t falling. What else can I do to contribute to the team?’ I figured it was rebounding and playing defense. I did that until my offense came around.”
It takes an inner strength to be able to do this, night after night, game after game, shooting below your potential but still able to be an effective player on a winning team.
This is nothing new. There is more to Kevin Jones that basketball player. You can find it by going back to his recruiting website “officialkevjones.com” as he was coming out of Mount Vernon High in New York.
“His passion, drive and determination paid off on the court and in the classroom. Kevin has been a member of the National Honor Society since his freshman year and a scholastic All-American who has received countless offers from several hi-major collegiate programs,” it reads.
“When he is not on the court showcasing his basketball skills Kevin can be found giving back to his community as a basketball coach and mentor for the youth who participate in various basketball and community programs. Kevin recognizes and acknowledges the positive and supportive guidance and mentoring that is a major part of his development. He is committed to giving back to the community as a way of saying THANK YOU to everyone for their continued support.”
He is a good person, raised the right way so that he takes the important things in life seriously.
Then there’s his work ethic, which is why everyone believes he’ll get his shot back and wind up making baskets in the NBA.
“Kevin practices diligently under the direction of his brother, Gerard Jones, an ex-football player at the University of Massachusetts and NFL prospect,” the website said. “Early in his basketball development, which began in elementary school, Kevin adopted a work-out regime that will rival most elite strength and conditioning programs. The predawn workouts consisted of pyometrics, weight training and shooting drills that helped increase Kevin’s stamina, muscle tone and shooting range.”
You might make note of two elements of that statement that separate Jones from your normal athlete: elementary school and predawn.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.