Jones finally feeling rewards of his journey

  • 03/03/2012 12:24 pm in

No 1,000-point scorer in Indiana University basketball history has been through the highs and lows that Verdell Jones has experienced during his four seasons in Bloomington.

From a 6-25 freshman season to a senior campaign in which the Hoosiers own wins over a trio of top five teams and are headed to the NCAA Tournament, Jones has been at the forefront of the rebuilding process for one of the country’s most storied programs.

It’s that unique experience and journey to bring Indiana back that will ultimately place Jones and his fellow seniors into a group that will be remembered for starting the rebuild of Indiana basketball.

A visit that nearly didn’t happen

In the spring of 2008, Jones, who played high school basketball at Central High School in Champaign, Ill., was one of the top unsigned seniors still available to sign a National Letter of Intent. Scholarship offers had come from schools like Kentucky, Minnesota and Tennessee. Jones was beginning to narrow his focus and ultimately decide where to spend the next four years of his life.

He’d been recruited some by Tom Crean and Tim Buckley when both were at Marquette. Jones even took an unofficial visit to the Marquette campus, but said he didn’t like it very much.

When Crean departed for Indiana in early April, the staff scrambled to put together a class to fill the roster for the upcoming season and Buckley put in a call to Jones’ father to gauge his interest in an unofficial visit to Bloomington.

“I was pretty much against it at first,” Jones said. “I was really set on the schools I wanted to choose from.”

But after some convincing from his dad, Jones kept an open mind and hit the road for Bloomington on the weekend of the Little 500.

“I fell in love with it. The tradition and all of that was amazing,” he said. “When I committed, a lot of [Kelvin] Sampson’s players were still here, so I felt we had a good core of players. But after I signed my Letter of Intent, players started to quit and were leaving, but I wanted to keep my commitment because I saw the passion that Coach Crean had.”

A rough adjustment

Top 150 recruits rarely sign with schools in the shape Indiana was in when Jones penned his Letter of Intent.

The Hoosier program was in shambles in the wake of NCAA violations and as the dust settled on IU’s roster for Crean’s first season, it became clear that the outlook on the 2008-2009 season was bleak.

Losing was not something Jones or his teammates, many of whom had successful AAU and high school careers, would deal with easily. As a senior at Champaign Central, Jones led the Maroons to a third-place finish in the Illinois State Tournament.

“It [losing] was something that was totally different. I won my whole life. To do the polar opposite was hard,” Jones recalls. “Some days it was hard to get motivated. Losing, it kills you. It takes away your passion and just drains you a little bit. Mentally and physically.”

His first season at Indiana ended with a 1-17 record in conference play. Jones averaged 11.0 points per game.

While it may be hard to imagine taking many positives from a season where the Hoosiers barely avoided going winless in Big Ten play, Jones says he managed to do just that.

“It was definitely something that, looking back on, I think helped shape me as a man today.”

A physical transformation

Jones arrived in Bloomington listed at 160 pounds. That may have been generous.

He remembers not being able to bench 185 pounds when he began lifting weights on campus. He struggled to add and keep on weight.

It would be a lengthy process, but ultimately, Jones arrived at 195 pounds prior to this season. Adding weight each season helped him to better compete and adjust to the rigors of playing in one of the country’s most physical leagues.

“It’s hard to gain weight and keep it on because of all of the running and conditioning you do,” he said. “But they [Jeff Watkinson and Je’Nay Jackson] did a great job with me. My body feels great.

“I went from not being able to bench 185 to benching 185 fifteen times now.”

An evolving role

Many wondered prior to the season how Jones would fit on an Indiana team expected to compete for its first postseason berth in the Crean era.

Coming off of a 12-20 season in Crean’s third year, pressure was beginning to mount to win now.

But Jones remained in the starting lineup as the Hoosiers raced to a 12-0 start and their first appearance in the top 25 since the 2007-2008 season.

Through 28 games, he’s taken 100 less field goal attempts than he did a year ago, but speaks like a seasoned veteran that understands how and why his role has changed.

“The first few years I had to do a lot of the scoring because we didn’t have the talent that we have now,” Jones said. “Other players have developed, we have Cody [Zeller] who can score inside. Christian [Watford] and Victor [Oladipo], guys like that have really come along.

“I don’t need to take 10 or 15 shots a night. I can do more things like get guys open and get them going first. That’s my role this year. Just being a senior leader and get other guys going before I get myself going.”

The other end of the spectrum

One photo and moment that will be remembered for years to come in this turnaround season for the Hoosiers is Jones and his teammates standing on the scorer’s table after knocking off No. 1 Kentucky, 73-72, back on Dec. 10.

It was a scene unimaginable a few years earlier when IU was dropping home games to Lipscomb and Northeastern.

After what he’d endured over his first three seasons in Bloomington, it was fitting that Jones delivered the crafty dump-off pass to Watford that finished off the nation’s No. 1 team.

“It was a great feeling. We’ve busted our butts these past three years. I actually believe there’s a law in the universe of sowing and reaping,” he said. “It was a rewarding feeling. Relief.”

What lies ahead

Jones, who is majoring in sport communication broadcast, is careful not to jump ahead of the moment or even the next game as the Hoosiers prepare for their final home game.

He says he’s not yet sure what he’ll do after the academic year ends.

Jones missed the Hoosiers’ first game against Purdue in West Lafayette, a 78-61 win that started IU’s February surge, but will get a chance to play his part as the team looks to beat the Boilermakers again on Sunday evening.

It will be an emotional night for all involved given what’s transpired over the last four years.

But speaking as a leader and as someone focused on the possibilities that exist for this group over the next month, Jones is clearly locked into to getting the most out of the opportunity that remains.

“I’m really just focused on finishing this season. And then going from there.”

Filed to:

  • Tolly1

    VJ is key to us going far in the tournament as well as Christian. When we get good games from these two young men we excel as a team.

  • Iumad

    Indiana fans owe a lot to Verdell. We are where we are because of these seniors paying a big price to get us there. Make sure you appreciate them!

  • Dagwoods

    Fans waver, criticize and jump bandwagons, but this guy gave all he had to what little we had.   This senior class deserves the ovations they will get on senior night.  I am proud to call them all a Hoosier alumni!

  • Dagwoods

    Fans waver, criticize and jump bandwagons, but this guy gave all he had to what little we had.   This senior class deserves the ovations they will get on senior night.  I am proud to call them all a Hoosier alumni!

  • The_Real_Assembly_Hall

    Thank you Verdell. Through it all I just want to say thanks.

  • wmrobinson

    Im sorry, i know this isnt about VJ3, but who was the player who said he wanted to keep his jersey on as long as he could because he never thought he would get to play at IU?  i think it was after CTC’s first year.

  • Gwr4560

    To all the seniors THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES you will always be a special group in the hearts of the Hoosier Nation !

    Will we be able to watch the presentation after the game ? TV, internet ….. ?

  • InTheMtns

    Verdell’s father, VJII, was interviewed by a writer for the IlliniHQ blog  before the Illinois game about his son’s senior year.  In case others didn’t see it, I thought I post this part because I think it says a lot about who Verdell is.

    On Verdell being a target of criticism among Hoosiers fans:

    “That’s a part of it. This thing is really predicated on performance, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. The key is to not be sidetracked by not knowing what you’re up against,” Jones’ father said. “He was prepared for this. We told him this is all about performance; people don’t care what kind of kid you are. All they care about is how you perform on the floor. He’s a quality kid on and off the floor. Wins and losses matter, but only for a moment. When it’s over, it’s about what kind of kid you are. That’s what we’re hanging our hat on. If you win a national championship and you’re an idiot and treat people bad, that carries no weight with us.”

    * * *
    There’s more to it than that for his parents:

    “My wife and I have always said the true litmus test for us as parents will never be what Verdell and (younger son) Clayton did on the basketball floor, whatever level they reached; it would ultimately be the testimony of our future daughters-in-law and our grandchildren because it’s an issue about character,” the elder Jones said. “At the end of the day, I think it’s about what kind of man you are. For the way he’s carried himself, we give God glory for that.

    “He’s been a great ambassador for our family, and we’re really proud of him.”

  • InTheMtns

    Verdell’s father, VJII, was interviewed by a writer for the IlliniHQ blog  before the Illinois game about his son’s senior year.  In case others didn’t see it, I thought I post this part because I think it says a lot about who Verdell is.

    On Verdell being a target of criticism among Hoosiers fans:

    “That’s a part of it. This thing is really predicated on performance, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. The key is to not be sidetracked by not knowing what you’re up against,” Jones’ father said. “He was prepared for this. We told him this is all about performance; people don’t care what kind of kid you are. All they care about is how you perform on the floor. He’s a quality kid on and off the floor. Wins and losses matter, but only for a moment. When it’s over, it’s about what kind of kid you are. That’s what we’re hanging our hat on. If you win a national championship and you’re an idiot and treat people bad, that carries no weight with us.”

    * * *
    There’s more to it than that for his parents:

    “My wife and I have always said the true litmus test for us as parents will never be what Verdell and (younger son) Clayton did on the basketball floor, whatever level they reached; it would ultimately be the testimony of our future daughters-in-law and our grandchildren because it’s an issue about character,” the elder Jones said. “At the end of the day, I think it’s about what kind of man you are. For the way he’s carried himself, we give God glory for that.

    “He’s been a great ambassador for our family, and we’re really proud of him.”

  • inadvertentelbows_stillhurt

    Thank you VJ3 you gave your all to IU basketball. You stood tall in bad times and Hoosier Nation should be very proud.

  • KraigIU

    I will miss seeing his mid-range game. With all of the hate he has recieved, some deserved snd some not, I don’t think he has ever been given enough credit for how unique and “old-school” his game is.

  • HoosierDawg

    This season has been proof that, at least sometimes, everything works out for the best. While the last three seasons have been brutal for all of us (players, coaches and fans), I believe we are now immeasurably better off than if “the cheater” (whose very name does not deserve mention) would have not been fired. We have a fine man as our head coach, we have great kids on our team that we feel proud of as IU alumni, and we have achieved great success on thecourt this season (with the prospect of great seasons to come). Where we are today is better than it could possibly have been with “the cheater” and the kind of people he was bringing into the program. Thanks, seniors, for your hard work and dedication in getting the program back to where it should be. And good luck tomorrow and next week and in the NCAA TOURNAMENT!!
    GO HOOSIERS!

  • HoosierDawg

    This season has been proof that, at least sometimes, everything works out for the best. While the last three seasons have been brutal for all of us (players, coaches and fans), I believe we are now immeasurably better off than if “the cheater” (whose very name does not deserve mention) would have not been fired. We have a fine man as our head coach, we have great kids on our team that we feel proud of as IU alumni, and we have achieved great success on thecourt this season (with the prospect of great seasons to come). Where we are today is better than it could possibly have been with “the cheater” and the kind of people he was bringing into the program. Thanks, seniors, for your hard work and dedication in getting the program back to where it should be. And good luck tomorrow and next week and in the NCAA TOURNAMENT!!
    GO HOOSIERS!

  • InTheMtns

    Here are two more stats that show that this year’s team has turned things around –

    This year’s seniors will play in the NCAA tournament and every Hoosier
    four-year letter winner since 1973 has played in the NCAA tournament.

    Every four-year player since 1950 has played on a ranked team. IU is ranked
    No. 18/20.

    There’s a nice article – “Indiana seniors take long road to earn respect” – at

    http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/story/17547121/indiana-seniors-take-long-road-to-earn-respect.  
    It even includes a tidbit about Tijan I hadn’t heard before.

  • Laueb

    While we all wait for ‘The Movement’ to arrive, this current team and the seniors in particular,
    should be known henceforth as ‘The Redemption’ becaused they repurchase the IUBBall legacy IMHO. Hat tip if someone else has suggested this name I haven’t seen it anywhere before.

  • Jmfriedman

    As painful as it has been the last few years as a fan, it must be exponentially more painful as a player.  To give it everything you have and still get your butt kicked on a regular basis is defeating in every sense of the word.  To continue in the fight and to never give up, like VJ has, is very impressive and is a true testament to his high character.  VJ will always be a winner as an IU alum, and more so, as a person.  It is too bad there aren’t more young men out there with the drive to succeed that he has shown.  Hopefully, the payoffs are not over….just yet.

  • Laueb

    But please, while we love you guys, no ‘ball hogging’!!! Be sure to find the open man.

  • Laueb

    But please, while we love you guys, no ‘ball hogging’!!! Be sure to find the open man.

  • Andrew

    The only senior CTC’s first year was Kyle Taber.  The following year was Tijan, Devan Dumes, and Brett Finkelmeier.  Maybe Finkel said it.

  • Waffle

    VJlll is a key factor of IU basketball and deserves a lot of credit. Jones’ key moments are
    -He passed the ball to Watford for the game winner against Kentucky
    -He helped Indiana get through Michigan, Northwestern, and MSU this season
    -He helped the Hoosiers rebuild from scratch
    -He gave confidence to this team

  • Derbus

    ITM,

    I want to post this to all IU FANS, whatever critcism VJIII received was solely focused on the IU basketball component of his daily life.  All IU fans love all the players.  We know when a player is performing at his average, better, or unfortunately – worse, thus the disappointment in his play at times ~ and blogs addressing it.  Heck, maybe having him in ‘create a shot/assist’ mode for the last play of the game will get us to the Final 4 this year?!!!  CTC decides this with his game management.

    For all ITHers, I wish you all continued enjoyment watching THE basketball program in the USA reach its pinnacle and stride again, beginning with this team and moving foward!

    Gratitude to “THE MOVEMENT”, which began ONE year early!!!

    Happy Hoosier this year!!!

  • Kelin Blab

    I have always been a huge fan of VJ’s game and him as person. It is NOT easy to spend 3years getting it handed to you but you stay committed to a program, coach, and team believing it is going to get better…..

    Just as many have left for other opportunities, he stayed and that is why I will always put VJ in the same sentence with guys like DJ White, who came from other states, endured alot, but stuck with this program and became Indiana kids!

  • Tom S

     There is no “hate” towards VJ that has been deserved – no way, no how.  All he’s done is work hard for 4 years, try his best to do what’s been asked of him and adjust to his role every step of the way, and represent my university with class.

  • Tom S

     There is no “hate” towards VJ that has been deserved – no way, no how.  All he’s done is work hard for 4 years, try his best to do what’s been asked of him and adjust to his role every step of the way, and represent my university with class.

  • Remy Willing and Abell

    Alex , I would love to see the senior day ceremonies after the game , will that be possible ? 

    This group has been through it and has persevered , the are unique and special . Congrats to them and thanks .

  • InTheMtns

    I agree Tom S.  Criticism, assessment, critique, frustration, consternation, dismay, opinion . . . OK.  But not hate.  He’s a Hoosier. 

  • Pretty sure BTN.com will stream them live and IU will also have them available. We’ll try to embed them as soon as they’re available.

  • Pretty sure BTN.com will stream them live and IU will also have them available. We’ll try to embed them as soon as they’re available.

  • Pinehurst

    Take another look at the picture above of Verdell, the expressions of Coach Crean and the other players are the way I will always remember himl. I believe he is the 25th leading scorer in the history of IU basketball. I hate to date myself but I am 56 and Verdell is one of my favorite players ever.

  • Druzy

    I believe it was Daniel Moore who said that.

  • Thank you VJIII. You’ve made a lot of big plays over your 4 years, and I’m glad you decided to put on an Indiana jersey. 

  • dfitz

    May VJIII and all of the seniors remain in Indiana or at least close to the IU program if their ambitions take them elsewhere and to enjoy friendship and good will of the Hoosier nation. Who knows, maybe on day VJIV will lead the Hoosiers to the 2034 championship and IU’s 10th banner.

  • CH

    I want VJ3 to have 10 assists to Roth for THREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.  Show the boilerwankers what the future holds. boiler down

  • CH

    I want VJ3 to have 10 assists to Roth for THREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.  Show the boilerwankers what the future holds. boiler down

  • garycannon

    We wouldn’t have “The Movement” without “The foundation”…Thank You VJIII, Pritch, Roth, Moore, and Barnett!! I hope the run is just getting started…it could be a magical March for this bunch!

  • Rghann

    Thank you, VJ!

  • Rghann

    Thank you, VJ!

  • Here’s to Verdell. He and Pritch and Roth have been good soldiers through the toughest of times. I look back and remember us all talking about the group that would “get us back”. It turned out to be the first group.

  • Here’s to Verdell. He and Pritch and Roth have been good soldiers through the toughest of times. I look back and remember us all talking about the group that would “get us back”. It turned out to be the first group.

  • Bleeding Crimson

    Due to the fact that ITH puts out great vid’s, interviews, HH, etc…I’m feel pretty confident ITH will post it?

  • SCHoosier

    Here is a guy who came into a situation where he was forced to try and do more than his experience and ability permitted. Yes he had some rough times…but more than fullfilled his role. I am impressed by the way he put personal goals and performance aside this year..and put team first. Sure I still hold my breath every times VJ starts dribbling too much…but he has worked hard to improve in every area. Good luck VJ..appreciate the commitment to IU and the effort.

  • SCHoosier

    Now that’s some postive parenting….

  • Aubreyhouse

    Thank you VJ! You have set a standard for others to follow.

  • Jim

    Let’s put an end to the hate. This kid probably singlehandedly carried IU for three years.

  • NC Hoosier

    Thanks VJ3– You are a true Hoosier.