Learning To Be Vocal

Four years ago, Kevin Jones walked into his first three-hour practice at West Virginia as a 200-pound freshman. Now, he's a grizzled, 260-pound veteran and one of the best Big East Conference's best players.

His own transition makes it easy for Jones, now a senior forward at West Virginia, to see how the slew of new team members will transform over the next four years.

"As a freshman coming in, you think you've played hard," Jones said. "But, you haven't really played hard yet until you come here.

"There is a lot of talent on this team."

Jones, who turned down a shot at being chosen in the NBA draft, has the tough task of turning a team with only four returning members from last year's roster into one that will honor him with the senior send-off his statistics prove he deserves. If he stays healthy, Jones will finish his career as the Mountaineers' leading offensive rebounder. If he has a sold senior season, Jones will also likely finish in the top five in minutes played and top 10 in scoring and rebounding.

It's easier said than done – especially with such a young crew around him.

This is where Jones' improved leadership skills have already come into play.

"These new guys, they're going to try to do things that they can't do and or maybe try to play too fast because they think that's what the coaches want," Jones said. "But, I've encouraged them to slow down and pay attention as much as possible because they are getting a lot of things thrown at them at one time."

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins went into last season with the hope that Jones, a leader by example in past years, would become more vocal and take over for departed star Da'Sean Butler.

That didn't necessarily happen, as Jones never found his stride vocally and point guard Joe Mazzulla stepped up to fill the void that was lacking early prior to Big East play.

"It definitely affected the team, and there were times where we could've won a game, but we didn't have that guy that brought us all together," Jones said. "That's what we're trying not to have this year."

Jones doesn't have an option to stay quiet any longer. There's nobody older and more experienced.

He has to be the leader.

"(Huggins) told me to take the reins of the team, and that's what we've been trying to do so far," Jones said.

Huggins described Jones' leadership ability in the team's first practice earlier this week as "terrific."

It's all part of the plan to be a better basketball team in 2011-12. The first step, as Jones and the fellow upperclassmen have admitted, is bonding. Playing in Italy during August and the 10 practices in Morgantown prior to that will go a long way to doing that, Jones said.

"It's very important to have team unity and cohesion heading into the year with a bunch of new guys," he said. "We try to learn everybody's personalities and start meshing together. We're doing a good job of that so far. Everybody here is a good guy, and we like each other's company."

It's only been a practice or two, but Jones has already pinpointed how this season's team will differ from the grind-it-out style of past years under Huggins.

West Virginia will run in 2011-12. Jones said it won't need to hold opponents to less than 60 points to earn a victory with the new athletic youngsters on the roster.

"We have a lot of athletes this year compared to a lot of other teams in the past that didn't have enough to play that style of basketball," Jones said. "The way we're training and the young guys that are coming in, the only thing they know is playing fast."

He and the rest of the veterans are trying to preach a controlled chaos style of basketball, though.

"It's not about going 100 miles per hour," Jones said. "It's about having control and being smart."

Jones spent much of his time with media members earlier this week discussing the plans he and fellow senior Truck Bryant, who Jones considers his best friend, for their senior seasons.

The plan is simple: Go out the right way.

"We've been best friends since we've met each other and rooming with each other. I like the idea that we finish where we started," Jones said. "It's been a tough road for us, and we've had some ups and downs. I'm just glad I can finish it off with a guy who's been my best friend for four years. It's going to be pretty great."

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