For the second consecutive year, West Virginia University’s Kevin Jones has been named to the preseason All-Big East team.
This year he hopes to live up to the billing.
A season ago, Jones was something of a lost soul coming into the season, overwhelmed by the expectations that surrounded him in what many believed would be his final year with the Mountaineers. He was supposed to be all-league but thought he had to be all-world.
Instead of being the best that Kevin Jones could be, he tried to be the departed Da’Sean Butler and Kevin Jones all rolled up into one, and anything south of Michael Jordan couldn’t live up to that.
“Obviously, I’m not Da’Sean,” Jones said the other day before departing for New York and Big East media day, where the Mountaineers were selected to finish seventh in the conference. “Nobody is going to fill his shoes. I wasn’t trying to do that personally. I was trying to play my game, but I put more pressure on myself than anyone could put on me.”
The more he pressured himself, the worse he played.
He got off to a slow start, scoring 9, 12, 10 and 9 points in the first four games. He never really recovered, actually scoring slightly less as a junior than he did as a sophomore, averaging 13.1 points a game.
“I expect a lot out of myself,” he said. “When I’m not playing well, I take it out on myself. That got me out of my game.”
He had to do a lot of soul searching but survived due to the strength of his character and came on to realize who he was and what he had to do to be at his best.
“Last year was a maturing process. I did better with it toward the end of the year. I found out a lot of things about myself,” he admitted.
Coach Bob Huggins watched Jones struggle last year and understood what he was going through, as you might expect from a coach who is beginning to push 700 career victories would do.
“Da’Sean went through the same thing, and Joe Alexander went through it before that,” Huggins said. “Everybody wanted him to be Da’Sean, but he wasn’t Da’Sean. Everybody has their own things that they do well, and they have to stay away from the things they don’t do well. If everyone does that, then you generally have a pretty good team.”
The thing is that Jones lost his way not trying to make himself “The Man” but simply out of trying to improve the team that was without Butler for the first time in four years.
“It wasn’t me going out there trying to impress anyone,” he said. “I was doing what I thought the team needed me to do to win, but at times it was actually hurting my team. By the time I realized that, it was toward the end of the year and that’s when I started playing better.”
Jones is a totally different player than Butler. He doesn’t have the versatility, the ball-handling skills. He is more of a rebounder, less of a scorer. He is more a stationary shooter.
“He just has to continue to do what KJ does, and that is make open shots and rebound the ball,” Huggins said. “He is our best defender. He is a three-man that can guard the five. He has to continue to do what he does.”
Jones is on board with that concept.
“I have to go in with that mindset from the beginning, not being anybody else but just being the best Kevin Jones I can be,” he said.
And that’s not bad. While not Butler, he has carved out quite a career of his own and done it quietly and without fanfare.
“He can conceivably be in the top 10 in scoring and top 15 in rebounding,” Huggins said. “He could be the best offensive rebounder here. That is pretty good, especially at a place like this that has had some good guys play here. That is a heck of a career.”
There were doubts this winter whether he would be back to continue that career as a senior, announcing for the NBA draft but quickly withdrawing his application.
He came back to a team that needs him for his experience and leadership, as there is no more Joe Mazzulla around and there is a lot of youth.
“It’s going to be a crazy year for us, and how we handle it will determine how far we can go,” he said.
He will try to take up some of the slack left by Mazzulla’s graduation.
“There is a fine line. You want to encourage everyone to do good, but at the time there’s only so long you can wait for someone to come through. It’s our last go-round; we want to make it special. Our teammates understand that. They want to see us do that,” Jones said.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.