Bloomington – One of the many reasons IU Coach Tom Crean didn't want the 2008-09 season to come to an end in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament was the meteoric rise in the play of then-freshman Verdell Jones.
After suffering an early injury and occasionally appearing lost in the early portions of his debut season, Jones was clearly found by the time the season concluded. He averaged a solid 11.0 points and 3.6 assists for the season, and a borderline spectacular 15.9 points and 4.2 assists over the course of the final 10 games.
"When you go through a season like we did and improve like that, to have numbers like that from Feb. 1 on, that's a big deal," Crean said. "That's why you don't want the season to end – because your team is getting better."
While the first-round Big Ten tourney loss to Penn State last March had closed the book on the Hoosiers' season, indications are that Jones' improvement didn't go on summer break. Instead, the 6'5", 184-pound sophomore has recently been singled out by Crean and a handful of his IU teammates as the player who's made the greatest strides since last year's Big Ten Tournament.
"That's a great compliment coming from my teammates, because they've looked great too," Jones said.
Jones' off-season work included a return to his home in Champaign, Ill., were he said he was doing two-a-days everyday with his father to both add and polish areas of his game. That, coupled with the 10 pounds of weight he's added under the watchful eye of IU strength and conditioning coach Jeff Watkinson, have Jones' game and confidence at new levels.
"I think my game is a lot faster, my three ball has come along, my handle is better and I'm more confident now," said Jones, who shot just 32.8 percent from 3-point range a year ago and committed a team-high 99 turnovers. "I just feel like the person in front of me can't guard me."
The person in front of Jones figures to be different this year than it was a year ago as well. Last season, Jones spent the majority of his time running the team from the point guard position. There will be plenty of occasions when he's bringing the ball up the floor again this year, but he'll also find himself on the wing.
"We have two great point guards in Jeremiah Rivers and Jordan Hulls," said Jones, whose played with both a great deal over the course of the last year in both practice and open gym. "I can play the 1 thru the 3 – that's the advantage of being a 6'5" guard. I'll run the point, run the 2 and the 3, where I need to be is where I'll be."
While the work on his skills has been apparent the teammates he's gone up against in open gym, so has the added strength and weight. Jones won't be confused with former IU star Eric Gordon as far as being a physical backcourt player, but he's able to withstand a lot more contact than he was a year ago.
"He's really developed physically," said teammate Jeremiah Rivers. "You might not see it on his body, but he's a lot stronger. He's got a Tayshaun Prince type body…appearance-wise he might not look like he's put on 30-40 pounds, but when he's got you in the post, you're going to feel it."
Jones' Game Still On the Rise
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