14 May 2012
Josh Verlin covers the Philadelphia basketball scene for the website Philahoops.com. Recently, he caught up incoming Pitt Panther Chris Jones and the two discussed his game, Jamie Dixon and his recruitment.
Though the Pittsburgh Panthers are coming off their worst season in seven years, there are plenty of reasons for hope on the horizon.
One big reason is the incoming freshman class, a consensus top-15 group due mostly to the presence of 7-foot New Zealander Steven Adams, who many believe could have been a first-round NBA draft selection as early as this year.
After Adams and point guard James Robinson, a consensus top-60 recruit out of basketball powerhouse DeMatha (Md.), had both committed by September of 2011, it seemed the Panthers had found their two-man class to replace graduating seniors Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson.
The surprise transfer of Khem Birch meant a third scholarship was open to add to that stellar 2012 class, and that was all the opportunity that Teaneck (N.J.)’s Chris Jones needed.
After drawing mostly mid-major interest through his junior year, the 6-foot-5 wing’s impressive senior season earned Jones a scholarship offer from Jamie Dixon and Teaneck’s all-time leading scorer was headed for the Big East.
“Early on, he got a lot of interest from Atlantic 10 and Colonial conference and places like that, but I knew he was much better than that,” Teaneck head coach Jerome Smart told the Pitt Script Blog by phone on Thursday. “It was kind of, just wait it out and at the end of the year you’ll get the love that you’re supposed to get, if you have the season that I feel you’re supposed to have, which is what he did.”
“Pittsburgh actually got in a little bit late but I decided to go there because of the winning history they have at Pittsburgh,” Jones told the Pitt Script Blog at this weekend’s Mary Kline Classic. “Coach Dixon’s a great coach and he’s really known for developing players and I had a good relationship with coach Brandon Knight.”
Jones led Teaneck to a 31-1 record in his senior season, earning first-team all-state honors in averaging 21.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game to finish his career with over 1300 points.
That rebounding number is particularly impressive because, according to Smart, Jones averaged just 4.5 per game in 2010-11.
“He’s gotten much bigger, much stronger, much more physical and offensively he’s gotten much more aggressive even though he takes things in stride,” the second-year coach said.
“I’m really excited to start getting down to Pitt,” Jones said. “I’m starting to work out and everything so I’m really excited to get down there.”
Regarding his fellow incoming freshmen, Jones said he’d played against Robinson and called the point guard “tough” and “strong,” though he admitted he hadn’t yet seen Adams play.
Though the athletic guard/forward described himself as being an “above-average” shooter and an “average” handler, he did say he had plenty to continue working on in his game.
“My defense, getting faster, getting stronger; my jump shot,” he listed as areas he’s working on before college. “I’m looking to work on anything...my handle also.”
Jones could find himself initially fighting minutes for behinds behind juniors Lamar Patterson and J.J. Moore, sophomore Cameron Wright and redshirt freshman Durand Johnson, all of whom are capable of playing the G/F role.
Still, even if Jones ends up taking a redshirt, it doesn't seem like he’s the type to mope about needing to wait his turn to play.
“I said time and time again...speaking to our younger kids, you don’t have to look anywhere else for how you should conduct yourself on and off the court, it’s in front of you every day,” Smart said about his star. “You could always count on him to be there for workouts, he was a leader all the time in the weightroom, on and off the court, in the classroom, walking around the building, he was like the perfect person to carry the flag.
He continued: “A lot of times you take over a program and it’s a mess. I was fortunate enough to have a guy who was like a poster child for what you want your player to be.”
If he keeps working like he has been over the last two years, maybe the least-heralded of Pitt’s 2012 class could end up being the diamond in the rough.
Thanks a lot, Josh!
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