ANAHEIM, CA - MARCH 24: Lamont Jones #12 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates after defeating the Duke Blue Devils during the west regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Honda Center on March 24, 2011 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
I'm among the group of people that believes Lamont Jones when he says he left the Arizona Wildcats to join the Iona Gaels with only his family in mind. Spending the summer in New York, I took an afternoon to see Momo's world and write this story for Dime Magazine about his decision to transfer closer to home.
So yeah, there's bias in me.
With Arizona's game against the St. John's Red Storm upcoming this evening, I want to revisit what Jones' transfer means. (It's also fitting considering he was first rumored to be headed to St. John's before people realized his Rice High School head coach, Moe Hicks, was on the Johnnies staff, dissolving a chance for that to happen.)
The Gaels nearly pulled of a victory against a borderline top-25 Purdue Boilermakers team in Puerto Rico Thursday afternoon, falling to Matt Painter's squad .
I watched most of the second half. And immediately upon turning on ESPN3, I realized that the Wildcats are dearly going to miss Jones, no matter whether you think he's a true point guard and no matter whether you think he'll even sniff the NBA.
For what it's worth, to say Jones transferred to be The Man seems silly for several reasons. The Gaels have legitimate talent, and Jones is probably the second or third best player on that team. He said this summer that he was offered by teams within the Pac-12, and heck, he could have gone to a lot of lesser big schools and shined as the star. But he went to a small school with a lot of talent -- close to home.
Jones plays hard. All the time.
On Thursday I saw Jones act in the following ways:
- He got in the face of Iona's established star, Mike Glover, as the game came down to the wire.
- He hit the go-ahead, short jumper to put the Gaels ahead 90-88 with 33 seconds left.
- He displayed an improved jump shot that saw Jones go 6-for-12 overall and 3-for-5 from 3-point range.
- He was the leader who wanted the ball when starting point guard Scott Machado fouled out in the final minutes.
- And finally, when the Gaels were down 91-90 with seconds left, he committed a bad turnover on a drive , a play which pretty much sealed Iona's loss.
I'll take all of the above bullets, even with the final turnover. Who on this current Wildcat team wants to be in position to turn the ball over on one of the last plays? Nobody.
Along with his team-leading 17 points, along with his five assists and five rebounds on Thursday, Jones' swagger accounts for so much of his leadership qualities. It's no knock on the current Wildcats; Jones' personality is a rare one, and you can't fake it.
As much as Kyle Fogg can tell himself to become more vocal, there's something to be said of Jones' natural ability to do the same. It goes that much farther. Josiah Turner is working through what appears from the outside to be maturity issues. Jordin Mayes is a little too quiet.
And thinking about what Arizona's team lacks the most -- the fire to come out of the gates guns blazing (and if not, the dude to tell them they've got to get it together, AND NOW) -- Jones' transfer put a dent in the Wildcats core that can't be replaced as can the Derrick Williams box score.
If they find themselves down early on against St. John's tonight, I can't imagine how they'll react.
They miss his fire. They miss his toughness.
Where are those two things going to come from with the current Wildcats?