When SMU head basketball coach Matt Doherty was relieved of his duties in March, Jalen Jones began to contemplate his future as a Mustang.
Combine that with a prolonged coaching search, and rumors began to swirl around the Hilltop about the heralded freshman possibly transferring. But when Larry Brown was hired just a little over a month later, Jones knew it was an opportunity he could not pass up.
"I got really blessed to have a Hall of Fame Coach fall on my lap. It was an honor," Jones said. "I said I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to stay right here at SMU and be coached by one of the greatest."
But the excitement was short-lived. Brown immediately began to instill work ethic and mental toughness by running a two-week boot camp, where players were forced to get in shape or ship out.
"I had to wake up at 5 a.m. and be in the gym at 6. We did a whole bunch of defensive drills and a lot of running," Jones said. "It was probably one of the toughest things I ever had to do in my life. I didn't do anything like that last year so it was tough. But when I finished, I felt like I really accomplished something."
Now that the hard part is over, Jones is working on fine-tuning his game. Last season, the 6-foot-6, 210-pounder started 18 games and averaged 8.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game from the three position.
But with such a young team, Jones will be forced to play down low at the four and as well as handle the ball as a two guard.
"I've really been trying to improve my overall game, from ball handling to shooting," Jones said. "I'm going to be playing a lot in the post so I also worked on post moves. I will be playing a lot of different positions."
Having to be so versatile doesn't faze Jones, who said he's matured both on and off the court since last year, which in turn will help him, excel wherever he's needed.
"Last year, I was a freshman. It was a lot of different and new things. Now as a sophomore, I feel like I'm more experienced and comfortable," Jones said. "Coach Brown has helped my mentality the most
"He's gotten me way mentally tougher. From my shot selection to seeing the floor better, he's just gotten me more involved and helped me get my teammates more involved."
Jones also expects to score a lot more in 2012 after Doherty's slow down Princeton offense often made it difficult for the team to put points on the scoreboard. The Mustangs averaged less than 60 points per game last year and only managed an abysmal 28 points against UAB.
"It's fast and slow at the same time," Jones said of Brown's offense. "We can speed it up if we need to or slow it down and run plays. It's different, but it allows us to really play our game. I expect Nick Russell and Shawn Williams and even some of the freshmen to really impress this season. "
But while the overall makeover of this team starts with the offense, it ends with defense.
"We are running straight man to man this year. There isn't a lot of zone like we did last year," Jones said. "We're really going to put more pressure on the ball and cause turnovers. The staff stressed defense hard. We work at it so much and just need to apply it in games."
Jones knows how much excitement is surrounding SMU basketball with the season opener being only a month away. It's a bit nerve-wracking, but the buzz is something he's wanted since stepping foot on campus.
As a senior at Dallas Kimball, Jones averaged 18.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game en route to helping the Knights win a state championship. His numbers helped him earn 15 offers, but Jones decided to stay close to home in hopes of accomplishing something truly extraordinary at SMU.
"I really want to put SMU back on the map and build it into a powerhouse like I did back in high school with Dallas Kimball," Jones said. " I'm really looking forward to it. I'm hungry. In fact, we are all hungry and ready to make this a special season."
Hoops Player Profile Series: Jalen Jones
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