By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
MORGANTOWN — The last two times Kevin Jones has stepped on the floor for West Virginia, he has scored 29 and 23 points, which by themselves would consist of a good night’s work, but to talk about Jones scoring without his rebounding is like eating spaghetti without the meatballs.
See, rebounding has become so much a part of Jones’ game that its value may even outweigh his ability to produce points, especially since so many of those points come off the determination with which he hits the offensive boards.
If you were to turn to the NCAA statistics when you arose this morning, a few hours before Jones and the Mountaineers were to take to the Coliseum court to face the Akron Zips, you would have seen that Jones was the fourth best rebounder in the country with a 12.3 per game average.
Considering that he is neither 7 feet tall nor particularly known for his ability to jump, a blown dunk earlier this season testament to that, it is quite an accomplishment and he is well aware of that.
“Not a lot of guys take a lot of pride in rebounding,” Jones said.
“You have to want to do it before anything else. It’s not a lost art but most people don’t want to do it. Today it’s all about scoring to most people, but rebounding is key to winning games.”
That tells you more about Kevin Jones than anything else he could have said. To him, it is about winning and doing the things necessary to get there.
What is it, though, that separates Jones from others when it comes to battling on the boards?
His coach Bob Huggins knows.
“He has great hands and he has great determination to get to the ball,” Huggins said. “A guy told me when I was in high school that he never saw anyone get a rebound who didn’t try. He tries every time. When you go after it every time you are going to get some. He’s got great hands and those big, wide shoulders so he’s hard to block out.”
Rebounding in college basketball has changed over the years. You no longer seem to have the Bill Waltons or Patrick Ewings, the talented big men showing up maybe for a year before jumping to the NBA.
Now you have guys more like Jones, a forward, or Mike Moser of UNLV, the No. 2 rebounder in the nation who pulled down 18 boards on Saturday as the Runnin’ Rebels upset No. 1 North Carolina. Moser stands 6-8 and weighs only 195 pounds, hardly what you would think is one of the best rebounders in the country.
Jones isn’t really like the many great big men that Huggins had when he was coaching the Cincinnati Bearcats.
“He’s more versatile than what a lot of those guys were,” Huggins said. “They were mostly paint guys. Obviously, there was only one Kenyon (Martin) athletically. KJ can step out and make shots a little better and probably isn’t quite as good around the rim as those guys.”
What Jones does to get rebounds is figure out where the ball is going to come down. If there is a knack, Huggins said, “It’s just getting there.”
“If you look at the guys who have been great rebounders in basketball history, they have just gotten there. They go and they go and they go. Ironically, most of them weren’t great jumpers. They had a great base and had great hands,” Huggins said.
“I don’t have a secret to it,” Jones said. “Coming in here, coach told us to be on the opposite side from where the shot is coming from and that has helped me a lot during my career,” he said. “There’s a knack to it. I think I have a nose for the ball.”
Part of it comes from the person Jones is, a blue-collar worker who has emerged as a team leader.
“He’s been terrific,” Huggins said. “I don’t have any negatives whatsoever. He’s been very instructive yet very positive with them, and when it’s time to call somebody out he’s done that as well. When you work as hard as he does on a daily basis it’s hard for those guys to argue with him.”
No one appreciates a player stepping up and displaying character and leadership more than Huggins.
“When I first got here Darris Nichols was a great example for the guys and Joe (Alexander) had a great work ethic. Of course, Da’Sean carried it on and now K.J. is kind of picking up the mantle,” he said.
He’s grabbed hold of the leadership role like it was another offensive rebound.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhetzel.