No. 1 Option

  • July 23, 2010 11:56 AM
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By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
July 23, 2010

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Option No. 3 becomes option No. 1 for Mountaineer basketball this year. Forward Kevin Jones is being looked upon to be the next guy in line to keep West Virginia’ program on its upward trajectory.

  Kevin Jones was second on the team in scoring in 2010 averaging 13.5 points per game.
WVU Photographic Services/M.G. Ellis photo

During last year’s run to the Final Four, it was Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks that attracted most of the attention, leaving the silky smooth sophomore Jones free to work the baselines and wings to average 13.5 points per game and shoot a team-best 52.1 percent from the floor. Jones had back-to-back 20-point games against the States – Coppin and Cleveland – and finished the 2010 campaign scoring double figures 11 of his final 13 games.

Against Washington in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals, Jones went for 18 points and eight rebounds and then added 13 points and eight boards two nights later in the Mountaineers’ 73-66 upset of second-ranked Kentucky to earn all-tournament honors.

Last week, Coach Bob Huggins told ESPN’s Andy Katz that Jones becomes the team’s top offensive option until someone else on the team proves they can do it better.

“With his versatility, he can stretch the defense,” Huggins said of Jones. “He can make 3s. He can score well with his back to the basket. He’s getting stronger, and he’s even harder to move off the block. He does a good job of creating space and can hook it with either hand.”

Consequently, all those double-teams Butler and Ebanks saw last year will now likely go to Jones.

“I’m not going to force anything,” Jones said recently. “If my teammates look to me in different spots that will be great and I know sometimes I am going to be double-teamed so I need to work on my passing a lot.”

To get a better gauge on what he will be facing this year, Jones chose to go out to Chicago in late June to work out with some of the best players in college basketball at the Nike Skills Camp. The invitation-only camp was based on positions with NBA players serving as hosts. The wings were hosted by Paul Pierce and Kevin Durant.

“It was a great honor that I was selected to go there,” said Jones. “There were some of the top wing players in the country there so I was excited to go out there. I had a lot of fun, I met a lot of new friends, and just the instruction I received on how to better my game … that was a very good part.”

Jones said he had no idea how the selection process came about. “Coach (Larry) Harrison just came up to me and told me that I was selected for the Kevin Durant Camp and I was excited. I was ready to go,” Jones said. “I had to wait three weeks after he told me that and I just spent those three weeks getting prepared and getting ready to go out there and play.”

Much of what he learned out there only reinforced what he was already learning at West Virginia. However, there were a few new things he took from his experience at Chicago that he plans on adding to his repertoire this season.

“They helped me with my weak hand development, my ball handling skills, showing us how to get by a defender and basically being efficient,” Jones said. “You don’t have to do as much hard work as you thought you did when you are more efficient with the ball.”

Jones has been working hard in the weight room this summer getting ready for the 2011 campaign. He says his weight is up to 254 pounds and he is now stronger than he’s ever been.

“I don’t know how high they want me to get up there but I’m just going to do what I’m told to do and just keep on working at it,” Jones shrugged.

Sometimes, Jones looks at himself in the mirror and marvels at the transformation his body has undergone since his arrival at West Virginia.

“I look back and say, ‘Wow, I was a lot skinnier back then’ and now I see it as just a part of growing up,” he said.

That maturation process also includes taking on more of a leadership role on this year’s team, minus Butler and Ebanks to the NBA, as well as key seniors Wellington Smith and Jonnie West.

“I am going to have to be more of a vocal leader and talk to the freshmen a little bit more and take on a new role with the team,” Jones admitted. “I look forward to stepping in and doing that.”

Jones knows teams will be gunning for the Mountaineers next winter following one of the most successful seasons in school history in 2010 that ended up in Indianapolis in the Final Four. Jones believes the experience at the Final Four was invaluable to everyone in the program.

“It shows you what it takes to win,” he explained. “We went through a lot last year and we still were able to overcome it. The season didn’t finish the way we wanted it to but we still achieved a lot and we’ve definitely got to pass on that tradition to the younger guys and show them this is what we’re about and this is how we win.”

Most of the players have been on campus this summer taking classes, working out with strength and conditioning coach Andy Kettler and playing pick-up games at the Rec Center. Jones has been impressed with everyone’s focus and attention to detail.

“We have people that have been getting better the whole summer … Joe Mazzulla, John Flowers, Cam Thoroughman … they have been working real hard on their games and we’re just looking forward to another great season,” he said.

Jones also expects some of last year’s role players such as Casey Mitchell and Danny Jennings to take on more involved roles this season.

“Casey has been working real hard, Danny – everybody has been working real hard trying to get prepared because we know a lot of guys are going to have to step up this year,” mentioned Jones.

That includes newcomers Noah Cottrill, Darrious Curry and Kevin Noreen.

“They’re all in and they’re working real hard,” Jones said of West Virginia’s three freshmen. “I see them in the gym every time I go in there and that’s a good sign for us because they’re so young and they’re dedicating their time when they could be off doing what normal freshmen are trying to do during the summer.”

As a veteran player, Jones believes it is his obligation to show the new players how to go about their business and prepare for a long and grueling season.

“They’re working hard trying to put some muscle on and getting in the right shape because once the season comes along Coach doesn’t want to hear any excuses,” Jones said. “He wants you to be ready so they’re working real hard on that.”

The one thing Jones hasn’t told them a lot about is the infamous treadmill Huggins rolls out on the baseline for each practice during the season.

“They will know where the treadmill is soon enough,” Jones laughed.

Indeed they will.

Antonik is the author of the forthcoming book Roll Out the Carpet: 101 Seasons of West Virginia University Basketball available in bookstores this fall.