Mike Jones coming home to South Carolina

Just call them the homecoming kings. USC aggressively pursued each of the three players named Mr. Basketball in South Carolina the last three years, only to have each player choose an out-of-state team. Mr. Basketball for 2004 and 2005, Zam (Buck) Fredrick and Devan Downey decided to come home and join the Gamecocks. Now it appears that Mr. Basketball for 2006 will come home and join them as well.

Mike Jones, the 6'7" 210 forward from Lower Richland High School in Columbia, was released today from his scholarship by Syracuse University. His former AAU coach Deion Bethea told GamecockAnthem that "Mike wants to come home and play for South Carolina." Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim told the Syracuse Post-Standard of Jones' decision after the team's Wednesday afternoon practice at the Carrier Dome. Jones said he was homesick, according to Boeheim.

Bethea, Coach of the Ravens AAU team in South Carolina, said Wednesday that "if (South Carolina Coach Dave) Odom decides to take him, Mike is going to give them another dimension, to go along with Devan Downey, Mike Holmes, Zam Fredrick, Sam Muldrow and of course the guys already there, Chad (Gray), Dominique (Archie). (The addition of Jones will) really put them over the top. Regardless what kind of year Dave Odom has with the Gamecocks this year, next year is going to be ridiculous."

While playing at Lower Richland, Jones was named the state's Class 4A Player of the Year for three straight times, and averaged 21 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 steals. He was ranked as the #12 small forward in the country by Scout.com in the 2006 recruiting class.

South Carolina officials cannot discuss Jones until after they have received official notice from Syracuse of his release, but due to USC's intense recruiting of him this past year when they told him he was their #1 target, it is presumed he will be accepted for transfer. The spring semester at USC starts January 15, which is when Jones is planning on enrolling. "He's doing his schoolwork, he's not having any academic problems." Bethea said.

In referring to Jones making it official with South Carolina, Bethea said, "It's a real big week for Carolina with the Kansas game, and then Georgia. They'll probably pursue it Monday, or something like that. He made a decision (in choosing Syracuse initially) and he had to live with it. At the same time, I don't think USC has any hard feelings just because of the type of player he is. They wished him well, and I think it's a real good opportunity for him to make up for it."

When asked what makes Jones special as a player, Bethea said, "He can handle the rock, he can play inside/outside. He's long, he's athletic. He has unbelievable talent to score and defend. Mike's a really good kid. He's quiet until he gets to know you. His drive is unbelievable, as far as getting better. And he's a really good listener."

Jones played his last game with Syracuse this past Saturday, Dec 30, against St. Bonaventure, when he played three minutes in the 82-70 Orangemen win. Those three minutes may end up being expensive, as the game is said to be considered part of the second semester, and may prevent Jones from beginning play at his new school until the fall of 2008, rather than beginning next January.

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