So about a year and a half ago, I wrote a column that I cannot currently locate, which said that I thought Verdell Jones should be named the 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Call it blind homerism, call it bad journalism, call it whatever you want, but I wrote it, and it’s probably still hurtling through cyberspace somewhere, waiting to pop up and surprise me.
But I stood by it then, and I’ll bet I look a fair bit smarter now. That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
It wasn’t exactly sage to pick Jones as a big part of Indiana’s future. He scored 11 points per game his freshman year, and pushed that number to almost 15 last season.
More than that, though, is the ways Jones scores. “Ways,” that’s the key word. He’s versatile, and makes up for a lack of size (still listed at 185 in his third year in college) with exceptional body and ball control when attacking in the paint. He has range that he’ll show on occasion, but Jones’ best work is done inside the arc, just short of the rim.
In addition, Jones has become more comfortable running the offense, although his turnover numbers (2.8 per game) are still too high.
What’s most important about Jones, inarguably, is his leadership skill. One of the lasting images of his sophomore season is Jones gathering his teammates at big moments on the court during Indiana’s 81-78 overtime win against Minnesota at home. Jones’ steadying presence on the court, accompanied by some clutch points in the game’s dying moments, all but carried Indiana to victory.
There’s no denying there are holes in Jones’ game. The turnovers speak loudly, and Jones still gives up size when he’s guarding bigger players, and speed when he’s guarding quicker ones. But Verdell Jones, who has turned into the jewel of Tom Crean’s first recruiting haul in Bloomington, is one of the unquestioned leaders on a team that needs unquestioned leaders, which makes him invaluable.
Looking to this season, Jones figures to handle the ball plenty, as Crean has said he will be one of the Hoosiers’ primary offensive leaders. He’ll need to cut down the turnovers, obviously, and improve on a 39.9 percent shooting mark (although it’s also fair to point out that Jones attempted 53 more field goals than any other Hoosier last year, so sheer mathematics worked against him).
But barring something unforeseen, we’re still talking about Verdell Jones as the heart of this team in January.
Best-case: Best case is pretty simple — Jones is one of Indiana’s leading scorers, its captain and an obvious candidate for D.J. White-dom by the end of the season. He establishes himself as one of the first memorable faces of Tom Crean’s Indiana.
Worst-case: The funny thing is, if Maurice Creek is healthy (and that’s a moderate if), the worst-case scenario isn’t all that bad. It’s really hard to imagine Jones regressing with the talent around him getting even stronger and more experienced, so worst case is probably just that his scoring average dips and others step into his leadership role, maybe even pushing him to the bench by the end of the year. But even those odds seem awfully long.
Quotable: “I think we’re very hungry. We have nothing to put our chests out and be boastful about, so we’re very humble and very hungry right now. I think that is going to lead us to win a lot of games this year.” – Verdell Jones
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