Player Previews: Momo Jones
Weight: 190 lbs
Position: Point Guard
Stats: 6.5 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.5 apg
Toward the end of Arizona’s 2009-10 season, then senior Nic Wise said something to Momo Jones that rising sophomores at major D-1 programs rarely hear. In a move that was symbolic of bridging the gap between the Lute Olson and Sean Miller eras, Wise handed the keys to the program over to his younger counterpart. He told Jones that it was his team now, and that he would be the one leading the charge in bringing Arizona back to national prominence.
So far, Jones has had no problem stepping into that role.
As a freshman, Jones entered the program with a lot of hype. He was Arizona’s second most heralded player in Sean Miller’s inaugural recruiting class but found adjusting to the college game to be not without its obstacles.
Known primarily for his scoring ability, Jones averaged just 5 points through his first thirteen games. During that stretch he also had just 16 assists to 23 turnovers, numbers which were hardly indicative of his talent. It was a period so frustrating that Jones very seriously contemplated transferring to another school.
However, the turning point for Jones came after those first thirteen games, when Miller imposed a one game suspension on him for not meeting team requirements. Jones could have let that been the final straw in what had been a difficult and disappointing season thus far, after all, the UA has had some bad experiences disciplining bold, confident players. In recent memory both Chris Rodgers and Marcus Williams allegedly caused chemistry problems after being suspended by the coaching staff.
But Jones’ reaction to the suspension was not what you might expect from such a competitive, heart-on-his-sleeve type player. Jones handed the situation like an adult, being both gracious in accepting Miller’s decision and mature in taking to heart the reasons why he found himself on the bench. For athletes on the biggest stage of amateur basketball, getting a lesson in humility is a rare and difficult experience.
But it was a lesson Miller did not hesitate to give, and what a brilliant move it turned out to be.
After the suspension, Jones’ play dramatically improved. He raised his scoring average by nearly 2.5 points, and more impressively, he compiled a 31:18 assist to turnover ratio during the final 17 games of the season. Not only did Jones’ numbers improve, but his decision making and ability to facilitate the team’s offense improved as well. His progress was so rapid that Miller did not think twice about calling him the team’s most improved player over the course of the season.
Jones is poised to be the starting point guard this year and with Arizona’s lack of experience and depth at the position, that means he will likely see 30 minutes or more per game as the floor general. That can be a daunting task for a sophomore, but by all accounts it looks like Jones has made a commitment to get his body ready for the physical rigors of D-1 basketball. (hyperlink body fat/chris rounds article)
With the way he improved during the second half of last season and during conference play, many people are expecting Jones to step into his new role without a hitch. While it may not be that easy, Jones is definitely going to see his production rise across the board. He should see a big increase in his scoring and assist numbers, though keeping his turnovers low in extended minutes will be a big challenge at the beginning of the season.
There is a lot on the line for Jones this year beyond simply helping his team win. If he steps into the starting point guard role and succeeds from day one, he could be looking at an all-conference type of year (especially considering the lack of star power in the Pac-10). If Jones struggles to handle point guard duties he could be in for a much more frustrating year, but more importantly it would open the door for the guards in Arizona’s stacked 2011 class to displace him from his spot on the depth chart.
Needs to Improve:
As promising as Jones was at the end of his freshman campaign, he still has a lot to prove before he takes command of this team.
Jones’ outside shooting, for one, leaves a lot to be desired from a team’s lead guard. On the season, he connected on just 18% of his 3-point attempts. Furthermore, he made more than one 3 pointer in a game just once in 30 games. He made just 10 long distance shots all season. Arizona’s problems shooting beyond the arc were well documented last year, and if there is significant improvement in that area it will likely have to come from Jones.
Jones must also prove to be a capable defender. His defensive effort has never been in question, but what remains to be seen is whether Jones can play solid, fundamental defense against the league’s best guards like Washington’s Isaiah Thomas or Washington State’s Reggie Moore. If Jones wants to be mentioned among those names, he has to prove capable of matching up with them one on one.
Lastly, Jones has to bring the intangibles to the game that a team looks for in its leader. While Nic Wise may not have wowed fans statistically during his senior year, when he was in the game Arizona was a much better team. When he was on the bench, Arizona was rudderless and the difference was painfully obvious. Wise was also the most clutch player on the roster, shouldering the load when it came to crunch time, and he didn’t disappoint when the game was on the line. Jones has already taken a step into Wildcat lore with his game winning shot at Stanford, but he will need to be the Wildcats leader on the court all game, not just at the end.