Friday, November 26, 2010

SPORTS >> Lions’ Jones expected to have lasting effect

Leader sportswriter

The noticeable shift in Cabot’s defense every time Searcy’s Jamal Jones touched the ball Tuesday night probably indicates what the senior guard and future Ole Miss Rebel will experience nightly in his final high school season.

Jones, at a lanky, yet fluid 6-8, faithfully represents the trend of what nearly all college recruits are looking these days — size with versatility to match.

Jones came up through the ranks as an undersized player and focused on ball handling as a point guard for the Searcy Cubs junior-high teams.

When the first of many growth spurts came along just before his sophomore season and his move to the varsity, Jones suddenly found himself with the advantage of being able to play all five positions and be effective at each one.

“He’s grown a ton since we got him,” Searcy coach Jim Summers said after Jones helped Searcy beat Cabot. “He’s been such a blessing to have here. His skill level, and the things he does, he’s matured so much as a young man.

“Not just with basketball, I’m proud of him through academics and everything he’s done. That’s what has given him the opportunity to go to college.”

Portland State and Missouri State showed the heaviest interest, but Jones’ visit to Ole Miss late in the summer was the deciding factor. It wasn’t long after that he pledged to play for head coach Andy Kennedy and assistant Michael White.

“I love the coaching staff and the players,” Jones said. “The players that’s returning like Trevor Gaskins, he’s going to be like a big brother to me. Coach Kennedy and coach White, they’re going to push me. They’re going to push me to success, I believe.”

Jones also had his choice of a number of in-state programs including NCAA Division I members UALR and Arkansas State, but his dedication to becoming a Rebel was unwavering.

“He was happy to get that over with,” Summers said. “It don’t matter if it’s Ole Miss, Arkansas State or wherever, when he told me he was absolutely positive and content with his decision, I was really happy for him.

“That’s a tough decision for a 17-year-old to make, so if he’s content and done with it, then I’m proud and happy for him.”

Jones earned all state honors his junior season as he averaged 14.3 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.

He lists rebounding as an area for improvement, and said his biggest strength right now is drawing defenders away from capable teammates.

Jones had 18 points against Cabot despite getting limited open shots against the Panthers, who ran some box-and-one defense in an attempt to slow him.

“That’s the one thing – he’s going through a little adjustment period,” Summers said. “Every time he gets the ball, there’s five sets of eyes looking at him. They’re ready for him to penetrate, and we’re trying to get him to not shoot so many perimeter shots but get to the rim because he’s so good off the dribble, but everybody’s pinching him right now.”

With the excitement of signing day over, Jones is focused on his senior year at Searcy.

“We’re doing great right now,” Jones said of the Lions’ 3-0 start. “We’ve got a lot of stuff we can fix, and we’re still winning, so that makes me happy. We’ve got a tough conference to play in, and I’m ready to get it going.”

Summers, in his fourth year as coach after six as an assistant to Roger Franks, has taken his lumps while building a program from the ground up in the highly competitive 6A-East Conference. He has yet to take Searcy to the 6A state tournament, but the prospect of a berth this year looks promising with Jones returning as a three-year starter along with point guard Casey Wilmath and post player Chris Blakely.

As for the underclassmen, Summers believes Jones’ impact will last long after he has left to Oxford, Miss.

“These other guys are getting to see a high-level brand of basketball,” Summers said. “They’ve seen the success he’s had. It’s so easy to go to a sophomore now and say, ‘Hey, you’re slipping on your grades some — look at what Jamal’s done.’ ”