Little big man

He's the smallest Tennessee basketball signee of the Bruce Pearl era in terms of height but he might be the biggest in terms of impact.

Except for Year 1, when he inherited senior C.J. Watson, Pearl has spent every season of his Vol tenure trying to convert a shooting guard into a point guard. Those days may have ended with the recent signing of Chris Jones. The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder from Oak Ridge (N.C.) Military Academy is the first true point guard Pearl has added from the high school ranks since he assumed the UT reins six years ago.

The signing of Jones is especially significant in that Pearl compares him to former South Carolina superstar Devan Downey. Like the 5-foot-9 Downey, Jones is a diminutive dynamo with an uncanny knack for breaking down the defense and attacking the basket.

"I'd say Devan Downey and Johnny Flynn from Syracuse are very similar to Chris," Oak Ridge coach Stan Kowalewski said. "He's an incredibly hard worker. He's really worked hard on getting physically strong. He has great athleticism. Even though he's small in stature, he's big in heart and in the way he plays. He scores in a variety of ways - off the dribble, can beat you deep, good foul shooter."

Jones finds the comparisons to Downey and Flynn both accurate and flattering.

"I really like playing up and down," he said. "My game reminds people of Johnny Flynn of Syracuse and the (Minnesota) Timberwolves."

Jones has great respect for Downey, as well.

"He shocked a lot of people with the upset of Kentucky last year," Jones said. "He was the leader, on and off the court. Everybody just followed his footsteps, and that's why South Carolina was successful last year."

In addition to excelling as a point guard, Jones relishes playing the position.

"I like being the coach on the floor, the general," he said. "I can score when I want to but I like getting my teammates involved to win the game. When I have to score, that's what I do."

Jones can score, all right. He produced 23 points in each of Oak Ridge's first two games. In addition to taking the ball to the hoop, he has a knack for draining 3-pointers.

"He's got to be shooting at a 40-percent clip," Kowalewski said. "He shoots up to 23 or 24 feet. When he gets going he scores in bunches."

The point guard's primary role, of course, is handling the ball and directing the offense. Kowalewski says Jones has no problems in those areas.

"It's very rare that he gets the ball taken away from him," the coach said. "He handles it against pressure and double teams. Nobody has pressed us to date because they respect him so much."

Moreover, Jones is a tenacious on-the-ball defender.

"He uses his quickness to generate a lot of turnovers," Kowalewski said. "He can be a pest and make other guards uncomfortable. He gets a lot of steals and creates easy opportunities for our team."

Jones committed to Tennessee about a year ago, while attending Memphis Melrose High School. He never wavered, in spite of an ongoing NCAA investigation that already has cost Pearl $1.5 million in projected earnings, a year of off-campus recruiting privileges and an eight-game suspension.

"Tennessee is my dream school," he said. "I really wanted to play for Bruce Pearl. I like the playing style and the coaching staff. I like the way they relate to players, how they all work together and how they treat their kids."


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