Does Kevin Jones rank among West Virginia’s all-time greats?
Should Kevin Jones be mentioned in the same breath as Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley?
I proposed this question before the season and how much the answers varied was a bit surprising. Some said top ten, others top twenty and even more still said he was a product of longevity – a guy who played a lot of minutes over a full four years, so naturally the stats would pile up.
Now more than halfway through a potential Big East Player of the Year campaign to top off a career that also includes a Final Four, a Big East Championship and (probably) four straight years in the NCAA Tournament, I don’t see that as much of a debate.
However, I’d like to take a closer look at why his name is going to litter the Mountaineer record books when he graduates this spring. In my eyes, it’s more than just a case of “good for a really long time.” As I say in my reviews of each game, here’s how I see it:
The biggest attribute Jones has going for him is his versatility. Virtually every game he scores in a variety of ways: a back to the basket move to start, follow that with a put back on an offensive rebound, throw in a couple jumpers from the short corner, mix in a few face up moves, sprinkle in a handful of free throws and top it off with a pair of baskets from beyond the arc.
When a player has the ability to do so many different things offensively, it takes an equally special – and flexible – opponent to slow him down. If the shots aren’t falling from the outside, he can post up on the low block. If that’s not working, Jones can choose to run the baseline, flash to the high post or simply ready himself for an offensive rebound. That’s the rub: how many players in any given year have the lateral quickness to guard his face up, plus have the height to get a hand in his face, the strength to box him out and the speed to defend the perimeter? Maybe a dozen in the entire country, only a handful of which he will face.
How he is able to be so versatile is a matter of meticulous attention to fundamentals.
The senior leader is capable of scoring from anywhere on the court.
When Gary Browne has the ball on the wing, but Jones’ man is already fronting him, cutting off an entry pass, Jones begins to seal his man to get position for entry from the top of the key before the rotation. If he sees Truck Bryant open, eager to shoot the shot, he’s already boxing out. Jones is literally one to two moves ahead of everyone on the floor.
Once he does get the ball in the post, Jones’ reacts to his defender rather than resorting to a pre-determined move that his man may be in position to deny. Unlike Deniz Kilicli, whose moves outside of the sweeping hook shot are less than refined, “K.J.” brings an entire repertoire to the low post. If his man is tight on his back, Jones is ready with a drop-step move towards the basket or a subtle up and under. When his defender backs off, Jones faces up, rips the ball through and is in position to either take the jumper or drive past his man.
The fundamentals don’t stop when it comes to rebounding either. In fact, this is where he puts on a clinic. As I mentioned above, at times he seems to know when a shot is going up before the other nine players on the court. This comes from years of experience and being a student of the game. Jones watches film, knows his teammates and opponents’ tendencies and, most importantly, applies this knowledge every time he steps on the floor. After all of that, he times his jump perfectly and has the desire to go after the ball, even if it’s just to tip it to himself or a teammate.
I can discuss how well he seals his defender or how strong he rips the ball through his stance until I’m blue in the face, but when it comes down to it, to be an all-time great requires lighting up the box score one way or another. And Jones does that, too.
Taking a look at this season, he’s well on his way to an All Big East nomination and possibly Player of the Year in the conference. Through nineteen games, he’s averaging 20.4 points and 11.4 rebounds – the only player in the country averaging 20-and-10. If he can keep it up for the rest of the season, he will become only the fifth player in Mountaineer history to do that. His companions include Jerry West (twice), “Hot Rod” Hundley (twice), Rod Thorn and Mark Workman (who likely did it more than once, but rebound statistics were only kept his senior season). If you’re under the age of forty, you’ve likely only heard about these men through stories and books. Thorn was the last to accomplish the celebrated “20-and-10” exactly four decades ago in 1962.
If he keeps up his pace the rest of the way (assuming some combination of four postseason games), Jones will finish with the most points in a season since “The Logo” in 1960. In fact, he currently has scored double digits in every contest thus far, and if he keeps that up, he would become only the second Mountaineer ever to do that (West, 1959).
Stepping back to take in his whole career, the company is just as elite. Again continuing with the same pace for the rest of his senior year, Jones would finish fourth in career points, third in rebounds and, while he’s already first in offensive rebounds, his lead would extend to more than one hundred boards greater than Chris Brooks sitting in second place.
It’s been more than forty years since guys like Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley played in Morgantown. Yet, even still, stories of their on-court exploits reverberate through gymnasiums, locker rooms and even fans’ dining rooms.
In 2050, will today’s generation of West Virginia fans still tell stories of an underrated ‘tweener from New York City that was an integral part of arguably the most successful stretch of basketball in Mountaineer history?
I’m not sure, but if they do, Kevin Jones deserves it.