For Jones, this game important

LEXINGTON — This was not Terrence Jones' best game at Kentucky, but it might have been his most important.

LEXINGTON — This was not Terrence Jones' best game at Kentucky, but it might have been his most important.

About 17 hours after he was involved in an automobile accident at 2:30 a.m. Friday, he was on the bench when Kentucky opened its season against Marist. Kentucky coach John Calipari held Jones, a preseason All-American and last year's Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, out for about 6 1/2 minutes.

Jones got off to a slow start — but so did a lot of his teammates — before finishing with eight points, nine rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot in the 108-58 victory here Friday night. Kentucky led only 45-36, but dominated the second half and finished with a 78-20 advantage in points scored in the paint.

Jones, a sophomore, knew all eyes were going to be on him. Obviously being out at 2:30 a.m. before a game raised questions. Jones raised more questions by leaving the scene of the accident — he was not driving — before police arrived. Even more questions surfaced when one Lexington TV station reported that Jones may have been drinking alcohol.

That's not exactly what coach John Calipari expected from a player who turned down a chance to be a possible lottery pick in last year's NBA draft to return to UK and had done everything the coach wanted in the preseason to make himself a better player and person.

"He played pretty good. Obviously he was — you understand embarrassed and all that stuff. I expected ... I was surprised he played as well as he did because it is hard," Calipari said. "I mean you are walking in there thinking everybody is looking at you and talking about you. I mean, it's a natural thing. The kid is 20 years old.

"He will be fine. He made a mistake. I don't throw kids under the bus. This one became public, so I responded. Anything I don with any of these kids in any situation is always in-house and I don't -- you all don't know when I punish kids. You won't know."

But everyone was going to know how Jones responded. He was fine on the court even though he was not his best. He was even better after the game when he made no excuses for his behavior that resulted in Calipari instituting an 11 p.m. week night curfew and midnight weekend curfew for the players.

"Honestly, I take full responsibility for being late," Jones said. "I let down my teammates. I tried to make them not have a curfew. I did my best to not make it happen."

He says he left the accident — he was riding with a friend and teammate Stacey Poole when they were hit by a driver that was eventually charged with DUI — because he did not want Calipari to find out what happened. But he called assistant coach Kenny Payne and director of basketball operations Chris Woolard to tell them what happened.

Calipari had indicated that Jones left to avoid an altercation with the other driver, something Jones says was not true.

"I didn't even know the other driver," the UK sophomore said. "I was scared that if coach Cal found out we would have a curfew. I called the assistant coaches and told them, ‘Please do not tell coach Cal.' I was not trying to hide from the police. They knew where I was."

Jones was upset that he was accused of drinking.?He says he was doing a "favor" by going out to listening to a friend sing.

"I was not partying. I was not dancing," he said. "I was there to support a friend."

What about the report about his drinking?

"Anybody who says they have pictures of me drinking and that other stuff, it's not true. I would like to see the pictures or whatever," Jones said. "I did not do it. It was a freak accident that I?had no control over."

Teammates and UK?officials insist Jones does not drink. And there's no reason to doubt any of them.

Jones should not have been out at 2:30 a.m. He knows it. Calipari knows it. Teammates know it.

"It's just something that happened and we have to move on," sophomore Doron Lamb said.

"To be honest, I don't even really know what happened. But it's over now," senior Darius Miller said.

Maybe, but Jones knows he lets his teammates and UK fans down. That's why this was a big moment for him.?He could have offered excuses and not accepted responsibility. Instead, he apologized for a lapse in judgment — something that happens to anyone I have ever known when they are in his age bracket and probably always will.

"I felt I?had been setting a good example on the court," Jones said. "I still believe that. I?take full blame for being out late. It was just something I was doing to be nice and I?never expected something like this to happen."

Jones wouldn't say how often he normally might be out that late. And that's fine. We probably didn't need to know.

Jones was right to be thankful he was not hurt. After all, the other vehicle rammed in to the front door where he was sitting.

"I was scared, but I was okay. I was lucky," Jones said.

He was. He's also lucky he has a coach that understands not everyone will be perfect. He also lucky his teammates have no hard feelings and see this as a potential learning lesson.

"What happened happened," freshman Anthony Davis said. "It's over. If anything, it will just make us bond stronger. It's no big deal. He made a mistake, he's sorry and it's over."

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