Going out with a bang
Published: Thursday, January 26, 2012
Updated: Friday, January 27, 2012 08:01
When Kevin Jones made the decision to play his final season at West Virginia instead of entering the NBA draft a year early, he had an idea of how he wanted his senior season to go.
"I just feel like, if I'm going to come back, we've got to do it right," Jones said. "Me and (senior guard Truck Bryant) just want to go out with a bang."
He's been doing his part in making this one of the most memorable seasons for a Mountaineer in a long time.
Averaging close to 21 points and more than 11 rebounds per game, Jones is the nation's only player who averages 20 and 10 this season.
Jones has been the main reason for the success that this young West Virginia team has had through 21 games.
That's something head coach Bob Huggins made clear following the Mountaineers' 78-62 loss to St. John's.
"I asked all of our guys that think they're so good, ‘Where would we be without No. 5? What do you think our record would be without him?' " Huggins said. "He's been the most valuable player in the country.
"What he's done – and he's playing with all those freshmen who can't pass and don't pass him the ball – and he still gets the numbers he gets. That's pretty good."
The success he's had this season is a welcome change after struggling to shine in the spotlight during his junior season.
He was looked at to be Da'Sean Butler's replacement the year after he led the Mountaineers to their first Final Four since 1959, a heavy burden for any player to bear.
His scoring dropped from his sophomore to junior years and his confidence wasn't as high as it needed to be because of all the expectations.
"A lot of people were saying, ‘You need to step in and do what Da'Sean did,' and I think he just felt a lot of pressure," Huggins said. "This year he's a lot more confident being the leader of a young basketball team, and I think he kind of relishes the idea that people are depending on him."
Jones admitted the fact that because there are so many freshmen on this WVU team, his confidence has been higher. He knows he has to stay confident in what he can do for it to rub off on them.
"We have a lot of young guys, so once they see their leader's confidence is low, usually their confidence will be a little bit lower," he said. "You always have to keep (your confidence) high."
He's scored 20 points six games in a row and has already had more double-doubles this season than he did in his entire career before his senior year.
So, what's different for Jones this year?
It's simpler than you might think.
"My shots are going in this year," he said. "That didn't happen at the beginning of last year, and I just kind of got down on myself, second-guessed most of my shots, and that's why they were going off.
"This year I just have full confidence. This is my last year, so I just want to end it well."
And, his progress hasn't gone unnoticed by opposing coaches.
Multiple times this year, Jones has received high praise from WVU opponents.
"Kevin hits tough shots. That's why he's the Player of the Year in the Big East," said Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin after Jones finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds in an overtime win over the Bearcats.
"You have to give the kid credit. When a guy is a great player, you have to give him credit. I've got nothing but respect for him."
Even with all of the individual praise he's received this year, Jones is still focused on the ultimate goal he set for himself when he decided to return.
He wants to get WVU back to the Big East championship and the Final Four.
And, after the loss to St. John's, there's still a lot of work left to be done.
"It's all about team goals, and it's (always) been about team goals," he said. "Not once have I really thought about (individual rewards).
"I just want to keep playing well so my team will do well."