Left to his own devices, Chris Jones is a talented player with a ton of upside and confident demeanor. Those qualities helped him develop into a top 50 prospect at Melrose High School in Memphis, Tenn., and then the 2013 National Junior College Division I Player of the Year, but he also developed a few bad habits during that time – including a shoot-first mentality and a display of raw emotion on the court.
“In junior college, I knew what I could get away with,” Jones said on Monday. “I could do whatever I wanted to do, with or without the ball, on and off the court, too. That was the biggest change to me. It wasn't basketball. It just those things on and off the court that I used to get away with in junior college that I can't get away with here.”
At Louisville, he would be asked to listen and change. Instead of being the team's primary scorer, Jones would need to become more of a traditional point guard, something that has proven difficult to do at times.
“When I got here I still wanted to shoot all the time and didn't really understand what being a true point guard was,” he said. “Then I was shooting so bad that I just stopped shooting completely. My teammates knew that I was one of the best shooters on the team and they got on me about it. I just had to look myself in the mirror and say you're not this type of player and you need to change this.”
The need for change appears to have fully realized following the Cardinals first loss of the season. Jones connected on just 3 of 15 shots, while only registering one assist, against Kentucky two weeks ago, but it was his flamboyant flop without contact that drew national criticism and caused him to lose a spot in the starting lineup the following game.
Jones' response to getting benched? Back in the starting lineup against Wake Forest, Jones put together a performance that hasn't occurred in 12 years at Louisville. Recording a double-double of 22 points and 10 assists, the first to do that at U of L since Reece Gaines posted 30 points and 10 assists in a win over TCU in 2002, were crucial in the Cardinals 85-76 road win at Wake Forest.
“I think the bench has a way of forcing you to listen,” Rick Pitino said. “I think without question, if you're a true competitor. But you have to give him a lot of credit because he's responded in a great way. He's making his teammates better. In the Wake Forest game he got everybody the ball. Then when Terry went out and Montrezl was starting to get played well, he had to take over the game scoring. So he took what was there and he gave the team what was there. That's what a good point guard does.”
In his last three outings, Jones has averaged 21 points, 5.7 assists, four rebounds and three steals. Jones credits his Hall of Fame coach for the quick results.
“I just listen to him, start watching more film and ask more questions,” Jones explained. “When you are struggling, you don't want to struggle all year, it makes you look bad and you start hurting the team, so I just listen to him and ask questions that make me a better player, and that's what I've been doing.”
6th-ranked Louisville hosts ACC foe Virginia Tech at the KFC Yum! Center on Tuesday night at 7:05 pm.