Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Big East Tourney Tip-Off

Last summer, I wrote a piece for SLAMonline about Dominique Jones, South Florida's prolific scoring guard who faded into obscurity while the Big East became the talk of the town last season.

The Story, "Bulls Eye," speaks of Dominique Jones' desire to be a jack-of-all-trades type of player. He didn't want to be classified as a scorer or a go-to-guy and his gaze was shifted towards helping the South Florida Bulls go from Big East cellar-dwellar to ticket seller.

"Meet Dominique Jones. The most underrated, under-appreciated guard in the Big East last season, Jones operates offense for the South Florida Bulls.

A standout sophomore on the downtrodden, dungeon-dwelling Big East program that’s starving for a national glance, Jones isn’t worried about skyrocketing to stardom.

Not being mentioned in the same breath as other top-flight Big East guards never seems to get to Jones. He doesn’t think twice about it. He’s a cool customer. Throughout his career, coaches learn that DJ’s never bothered by the lack of individual shine, headlines, or the fact that he’s yet to crack the All-Conference First Team.

Jones doesn’t keep tabs on his numbers or mentions in USF forums, hound the Public Relations guy for stat sheets, or compare himself to other high volume scorers/playmaking guards who may be getting more love. Not Jones, he of the thick southern drawl and dieseled-up, tattoo-drenched arms.

He didn’t self-boast about establishing a new high-water mark when he hung 36 on Iona College. He was more content with scoring a non-conference victory to halt a two-game slide. At South Florida, pretty much any non-conference game has become a must-win.

With a revived recruiting class featuring 6-11 JUCO transfer Jarrid Famous, who etched his name in record book lure at Westchester Community College (Valhalla, NY), the Highlands County tide could abruptly turn.

Through his win-crazy energy and high-motor style, it’s visible that personal accolades are meaningless to Jones, a chiseled 6-4 guard. Surprising people as a team, progressing on a day-to-day basis, and maintaining his role as USF’s do-it-all guard are first and foremost...

...

Jones was a veritable batman for the Bulls last season, leading the team in essential categories such as points (18.1), assists (3.9), and rebounds (5.6). Despite this, he was still unknown to the masses. The cream always rises to the top, except when your squad can’t swim with the sharks of the Big East ocean and is instead situated with the algae and plankton at rock-bottom.

Although it was never his intention, Jones proved time and time again that he can “get his.” He shredded Bobby Huggins’ complex West Virginia defense to the tune of 35 points. He scorched the nets for 29 points and snared eight boards against Providence. A cyborg in Nikes, Jones seldomly played under 32 minutes in a game this season.

“I just want to be the face of the organization. If you look at it, our team is progressing,” Jones says. “I feel like we take steps back sometimes, but we have to keep pushing forward and get the best out of [next] season. Our goal is to just be prepared for the Big East tournament, get as many wins as we can. We need to keep getting better, set history, and just keep flowing.

“Our main thing is to just keep going, keep going, keep going. If a team rips off a little run, we don’t want to let up. We want to be right there and respond with a little run.”

If the Bulls—who stamped a shocking, 57-56 upset win over Marquette back on February 6—improve next season, Jones will make a little run to the Big East First Team.

Jones starred at Lake Wales High, evolving into a first team 4A all-state selection after averaging 21 points, 10 boards, and seven assists his senior year. The kid is Lake Wales through and through. He represents the school everywhere he goes.

When accidently asked if he played at a neighboring, rival high school, Jones served up a terse response: “Hell no!” He said. “Lake Wales baby, Lake Wales.”

Haven’t seen Dominique Jones play yet? Haven’t seen a personal highlight package or resume reel of his circulating around the web and sports channels?

Don’t worry. You will."

And so Jones has opened many eyes this season, as you probably caught his ferocious one-handed banger he delivered over UConn in Sunday's 75-68 victory.

South Florida's expunging of the Huskies, who've had their bouts with consistency, puts the Bulls in a fight for their first NCAA tournament berth in 18 years.

Jones has once again led the way for USF (19-11, 9-9 Big East), which languished around the .500 marked before winning three of their last four conference games. The junior is averaging 21.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and nearly 4 dimes.

The high-motored Jones has plenty of help with Famous--who had been heavily pursued by the University of Arizona and a slew of Big East teams--and fellow big man Gus Gilchrist.

Famous, one of the elite scorers and rebounders in the NJCAA last season, is averaging 11 points and 7.6 boards. Gilchrist is averaging 15 and six per.

Chris Howard has also been an essential ingredient, averaging 10 points, four boards and four dimes. It was Howard who knocked back crucial freebies 7-of-8 from the charity stripe in the final 1:04, fending off UConn's late fighting chance.

The Bulls kick-off the tourney today at The Mecca of Basketball. The Big East Tournament breaks out with the 12PM matchup of South Florida v.s. DePaul (why are these cats in the Big East?).

The Blue Demons recently went 3-overtimes in a tiresome tango with SJU, before the Johnnies closed the door behind a dominant performance from DJ Kennedy.