Terps' Jones grows into senior moment

Touted as freshman, guard has blossomed in his final season

March 03, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun Reporter

COLLEGE PARK -- As Maryland senior guard Mike Jones was warming up before the Terps' tip-off against Duke earlier this week, one of the most frequent insults flung his way from the Blue Devils' student section was the same label that deemed him a high school superstar.

"Are you a McDonald's All-American?" one of the Cameron Crazies yelled from a few feet away.

Jones' response was a game-high 25 points, four assists and six rebounds - evidence that his game has evolved into more than just unreliable, yet often remarkable, shooting streaks.

It just happened to take about three years to develop it.

"He's a different player this year," Maryland coach Gary Williams said. "He's up and down if you look at his scoring, but he gives you more now than he did when he was younger. He plays defense. He's a better ball-handler. He's a better rebounder. So he's doing the other things that make you a complete player. And he's had games where he's shot it well."

As Maryland has progressed this season, so has Jones, who until recently had been tagged a one-dimensional player, and considered by some a liability on defense. He will be among the six seniors honored today at Comcast Center before the regular-season finale against North Carolina State at 3:30 p.m., and has been one of the key components to the team's improbable turnaround and six-game winning streak.

Among the seniors - who include reserve forward Will Bowers, backup point guard Parrish Brown, walk-on Gini Chukura, forward Ekene Ibekwe and D.J. Strawberry - Jones entered Maryland facing the loftiest expectations. He was rated as the No. 2 shooting guard in the nation, behind only LeBron James.

"The expectations for him were too high," Strawberry said. "Mike's a great player, he does great things, but everybody expected him to be Steve Francis or something like that, and that's just not his game. He came in with a high reputation. So far, he's had his ups and downs, but he's just peaking at the right time."

Jones, the first Maryland player to wear No. 23 since Steve Francis in 1999, is averaging 16 points over the past five games. He scored 18 in an upset of North Carolina and surpassed the 1,000-point mark in the Feb. 21 win over Florida State.

"Obviously I'm coming into the game looking to score, but at times I realize there's more to the game than just scoring," Jones said. "You can get your team involved as far as giving out assists, rebounding, playing defense - doing the little things rather than scoring."

It's a lesson Jones said he learned midway through last season, probably around the same time he became a permanent fixture in the starting lineup.

"That's when it really came to me that scoring is not that important to me," he said.

Still, Jones leads the team with 69 three-pointers and broke the school record for three-pointers in a game with nine against Missouri-Kansas City in December. He also made seven shots from beyond the arc en route to a career-high 29 points against Mount St. Mary's in late December.

He missed all four of his shots at Wake Forest, though, and made just three of 11 from the field in a critical home win against Duke. Only recently has Jones become more consistent. His shot selection has improved over the past five games, and he shot better than 50 percent from the field (55.6) and from three-point range (52.4) in that span.

Still, his career numbers at Maryland are a far cry from what earned him the title of McDonald's All-American at Thayer Academy in Braintree, Mass. He averaged 24.8 points, 14.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.3 steals in his senior season.

"Coming in with the hype, I really didn't expect too much, honestly," he said. "I knew I was coming into a new environment with seniors and juniors. I just sat back, enjoyed watching the guys play and learning. I think that was the best thing for me."

Entering his last game at Comcast Center, Jones has averaged 8.9 points and 2.8 rebounds in 124 games with the Terps. This season has been his best. Jones is the team's second-leading scorer with a career-high 13.1 points and 3.1 rebounds. It's the first season he has made more assists than turnovers.

"Mike has changed a lot in his game," Strawberry said. "Coming in, he was just a catch-and-shoot guy. Now he's got a mid-range jumper, he's getting to the basket more. He's not one-dimensional anymore. It took a lot of hard work for that.

Said Strawberry: "In high school he was just better than everybody else. He would catch and shoot, and athletically he was just a freak, so he could do whatever he wanted to do. Coming in here, he had to work a lot harder and he's gotten a lot better. He's picked his spots. It's not just firing it up like he used to do. It's helped the team, and he's helped us win games."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

Seedings take root

The Maryland men's basketball team has a chance at the No. 4 seed and a bye in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament next week, but two things must happen:

Maryland must beat N.C. State at 3:30 p.m. today.

North Carolina must lose to Duke at 4 p.m. tomorrow.

If not, Maryland will wind up a No. 5 seed and likely face Miami. The ACC tournament begins Thursday at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.

Heather A. Dinich

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