Jonesing For A Return

Kevin Jones' decision to return to West Virginia means a stronger team for the Mountaineers next year, but did he make the right choice for himself?

First, the decision itself. After getting lukewarm reviews concerning his possible position in the NBA Draft, and also faced with the possibility of a lockout as the league battles labor issues, Jones' decision to return certainly made sense – at least for Mountaineer fans hoping to see a continuance of the string of successes under head coach Bob Huggins. But did Jones make the right decision for himself?

The answer from here seems to be yes. The uncertainty of the NBA labor situation should have been a major consideration of any player that wasn't considered a lock as a first round draft pick, and even some of those players decided to pass on a potential lottery selection to return to their schools for another year.

For Jones, who will have to improve his ballhandling and shooting in order to be a high draft pick, the choice offers a year to work on those skills as well. Jones is viewed as a player stuck between the NBA positions of small forward and big forward by several talent evaluators, and he will have to show that he's able to play with "threes" on the perimeter or bang with "fours" in an NBA environment before he warrants a high draft choice. One source indicated that he didn't show the necessary speed to get past players that would defend him as a three, and that some doubts existed as to his ability to bang in the post with fours that often stand 6-10 or taller.

Of course, the NBA plays an entirely different brand of basketball than that played in the NCAA, so his pro potential and suitability don't really have an effect on his value to West Virginia, other than the fact that he could be yet another player that Bob Huggins helps send on to the NBA. In the Big East, there's no doubt that Jones' abilities make him a very good player, and even after a junior season that was viewed as a disappointment by some, he is still one of the best players in the league. Jones' contributions run far past the 13.1 points and 7.5 rebounds he averaged during the 2010-11 season. He is a player that shows up and works every day, that doesn't slack off, and that gives maximum effort every time out. He makes good decisions, doesn't turn the ball over and rebounds well on the offensive end, often turning those second chances into points. While that might not be enough to stick on an NBA roster, it's a key in college, and is often the difference between good and great players. There's no reason to expect anything different from Jones during his final year as a Mountaineer.

The second issue brought up by Jones' decision is one of leadership. With a host of new faces scheduled to come aboard for the 2012-2013 season, coupled with the losses of such strong leadership figures as Joe Mazzulla and Cam Thoroughman, West Virginia will be in search of players that can shepherd the newcomers through the rigors of a Big East season. Darryl Bryant will be the only other senior on next year's roster, and the host of Mountaineer newcomers will definitely be in search of guidance as they begin their Mountaineer careers. Can Jones handle that task?

It should be understood that Jones is not the outspoken, vocal leader than Mazzulla was, so expecting him to take on that role in exactly the same manner that the fiery Rhode Island native did isn't fair. Leadership comes in many forms, and Jones has always been more of a lead-by-example guy than one who gets in the faces of teammates. However, a squad full of freshmen might require more than a taste of that in order to get acclimated to Big East play, so it remains to be seen whether the earnest Jones is able to dish out a stronger message on occasion.

While all of the factors that fans and the media look at in order to evaluate the decision seemed to point to a return, those certainly don't tell the whole story. Jones tweeted that he had "been going back and forth with this in my head", and it certainly wasn't an easy choice for him. The lure of the NBA is a strong one, especially for those in encompassed by the sphere of New York basketball. Playing in "the league" is the dream of just about every baller in the New York metro area, and Jones is certainly no exception. He had to be wondering if his draft stock might improve after a senior season if his numbers take a dramatic upward turn. The spectre of injury also had to to be considered. It certainly wasn't a snap decision for Jones, who clearly gave the process every chance possible to play itself out. Looked at dispassionately, however, more of the decision factors appeared to weigh on the side of returning.

In the end, Jones' decision is a huge one for the immediate future of the Mountaineer program. And other than causing West Virginia fans a few weeks' worth of worry, there certainly wasn't any harm done. At the least, Jones learned what he'll have to do to improve his draft status and earn a realistic shot at playing in the NBA. His participation in the process is also another chip in the bank for Huggins on the recruiting trail, as he can point to yet another player good enough to at least warrant draft consideration from the NBA.

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