By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Sometime tonight, hopefully early because the last thing Kevin Jones needs is any more pressure on him in what has been a season under the microscope, the West Virginia junior forward will make a basket that carries him past the 1,000-point milestone, a milestone reached previously by only 46 other WVU players.
Hopefully, when that moment occurs, they just sort of let it slide without making too big a deal about it, for Jones has managed to become one of the best players in Mountaineer history while remaining relatively anonymous.
If he were an actor he would be Robert Duval, not Robert Redford. He would carry the movie without anyone realizing it and, if he didn’t get the beautiful lady at the end, it really didn’t matter to him because he knew he did what he was supposed to do and contributed to the overall success of the movie.
There were high expectations when Jones was recruited out of Mount Vernon, N.Y., along with Truck Bryant and Devin Ebanks, a triumvirate of budding super stars we were told.
The problem with that for Jones was that he had no idea what he really was capable of doing.
“I honestly didn’t know what kind of player I would be in college,” he said on Tuesday, awaiting the final practice before tonight’s 7 p.m. Big East skirmish with Seton Hall. “Obviously, everyone wants to be a star player and everybody wants to do certain things.”
As it is with so many freshmen, there was an adjustment period, a time when he had to figure out how to lace up his collegiate high tops.
You ask him now to recall one shot out of his career, just two or three of the points that laid one atop of the other until he was sitting upon 1,000, and thinks deeply, then comes back to what was many a rather obscure basket during his freshman season.
“It would be a shot I made over Luke Harangody when I was a freshman,” he said. “It was a memorable shot because it was over Luke Harangody, but it kind of marked my transition in my freshman year toward playing better.”
Harangody, of course, was a Notre Dame All-American, the player that Jones may have actually envisioned himself becoming.
But his career never steered itself toward stardom. With Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks on hand, he was the perfect complementary player, a rebounder who could score, a player who made very few mistakes in the course of a game.
“He’s just one of those guys that does what he’s asked to do,” senior guard Joe Mazzulla said. “Last year he was great playing off Da’Sean and Devin.”
The result was a dream season, one that actually made Jones’ career.
“My career has gone the way I would have wanted it so far. I’ve been on a Final Four team, I’ve been on a Big East championship team and this year we are looking forward to going back to that same place,” he said, once again letting team accomplishments trump any personal goals.
To get back to that same place, as he put it, people figured that he would have to inherit the role Butler played as the go-to scorer.
That actually hurt his play early in the year.
“He’s so hard on himself and worked so hard at it that maybe it took a little bit of a toll on him,” Mazzulla said. “Now, with seven guys and scoring by committee it has helped him relax and he’s doing what Huggs wants him to do, which is offensive rebound and score close to the basket, then knock down some 3s off penetration.”
Jones knew the expectations, knew that Butler and Ebanks were gone. He thought about it a lot in the off-season.
“How am I going to respond to this? What can I do to help make this team be successful, whether it be scoring or rebounding or doing something else?” he recalled. “I knew a lot of people expecting me to score a lot more but I feel that we have a lot of scorers on the team. At certain times I feel I can score. At certain times I feel my team is able to step up and make some open shots, especially if I’m being double-teamed.”
It isn’t, you see, about scoring with Jones.
“It’s about winning games. At the end of the day, whatever I can do to help my team win games I’m all for.”
He spoke to Huggins about his role.
“His whole approach to me was not to put pressure on myself, not to play outside myself, just play my game. How I play is good enough. I don’t need to play like anyone else. I don’t need to be another Da’Sean because I’m not Da’Sean. As long as I stay true to myself, I will be fine,” Jones said Huggins told him.
He has done just that and that is what endears him to Huggins so much.
“K.J. does probably more for us than anyone else on the team does, in all honesty. K.J. is a guy you can play on a post guy, like we did in the Louisville game. He can play on the perimeter. You can play him anywhere defensively and he’s solid,” Huggins said.
“He hasn’t shot the ball quite a well as he did before, but he’s doing other things. He’s been a post presence for us where we can throw the ball into the post and score. He’s made key shots. He’s made big shots for us. Georgetown game he makes a huge 3, makes some big shots in the Cleveland State game, makes some really big shots in the Cleveland State game when we really needed someone to make shots.”
Tonight, for at least a moment, he can’t avoid the spotlight for there will come a time when he scores his third point of the game reaches 1,000.
It will matter to him only if West Virginia wins the game.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.