For One Night, Jones Is 'The Guy'

For one night, Kevin Jones was good enough to put West Virginia squarely on his shoulders and lead it to an easy win over Alcorn State. The biggest question the Mountaineers may face going forward is whether that had more to do with the caliber of opposition or the senior forward growing more comfortable in his role as "the guy."

In the days before the start of preseason practices, when players met with reporters to preview the year, Jones admitted he struggled with adapting to being his team's de facto leader as a junior last season.

It was a mantle Jones never chose for himself. It was foisted upon him when Da'Sean Butler's career ended in spectacular fashion, with banners for a Big East championship and a Final Four appearance hung in the Coliseum rafters largely on the strength of his heroic play.

Jones thrived in the long shadow cast by the massive spotlight on Butler. He developed a reputation as a "garbage man" -- in the most positive way possible -- by making his living doing the dirty work. He was an offensive rebounding machine, with a sizable chunk of his scoring production coming in the form of easy put-backs.

The Mount Vernon, N.Y., native was praised for his work in those areas as a sophomore, but was expected to be something more as a junior -- an offensive focal point, someone capable of creating (and making) his own shots and not just cleaning up the misses of others. He was to take Butler's place as West Virginia's emotional (and vocal) leader.

The adaptation process didn't go as smoothly as anyone -- Jones included -- would have liked. His field goal accuracy rate dropped by eight percent (from 52.1 to 44.6). His 3-point shooting mark dipped even more markedly, from 40.4 to 30.1 percent.

But Jones learned a lot about himself in the process. Most importantly, he learned that he is not Butler.

"I don't like comparing myself to Da'Sean or any of the other guys who came before me," he said. "I can only be me. I can only do what I do best."

Indeed, at that same preseason meeting with media members when Jones discussed his discomfort last season, he vowed to get back to doing what he does best -- namely, being a monster on the glass, getting easy baskets, playing within the offense and not forcing shots.

So far, so good.

Jones passed former Mountaineer forward Chris Brooks for first place on the school's career offensive rebounding list, grabbing three of his staggering 10 offensive boards in the game's first 4:00.

And just as importantly, he turned those extra opportunities into points. The senior scored WVU's first seven and had an unassisted 8-0 run near the midpoint of the first half to blow the game wide open.

Add it all up and you get a stat line even Butler never touched in his four years in Morgantown: 29 points, 13 rebounds. It hadn't been done by a WVU player in a 40-minute game since Russel Todd managed 29 and 14 in a 101-84 win over Penn State in 1983.

Jones deftly deflected the praise he received postgame concerning the offensive rebounding mark: "I couldn't have done it without my teammates missing all those shots," he quipped.

Huggins also joked about Jones' stat-padding. The forward passed his previous career-high scoring mark (which was 25, set in a loss at Louisville last season) in the second half on a play where he was all alone on the baseline, went up for a dunk and was rudely denied by the rim. He collected -- you guessed it -- his own offensive rebound and laid the ball in for points 25 and 26.

But the coach made his true feelings about the senior known.

"When it's all said and done, he's had a Hall of Fame career. You look at guys who are in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding, and those guys are Hall of Fame guys," Huggins said.

"He has worked so hard. He's such a wonderful guy. You can't imagine how good of a guy he is and how good he is to deal with every day ... you wish all of them you had were like him."

And, as Jones has started to learn, being himself isn't the worst idea. Maybe he will never be what Butler was, but Butler never was what Jones is. Thursday's performance was vintage Jones -- playing within himself, hitting open shots, grabbing offense rebounds, scoring easy baskets.

It was efficiency on a basketball court defined, his 21 shots from the floor (more than twice as many as any of his teammates) never feeling forced. He made 13 of those shots and made it all look as easy as possible.

That is Jones' game, and it's good enough for WVU to win with.

He may never be "the guy" who absolutely has to have the ball in his hands on a gotta-have-it possession in the final seconds of a close game, but he does everything else well enough to give his team -- and, make no mistake about it, this team is his -- a chance to win on any given night.

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