A Mountaineer Continues His Climb

September 25, 2012
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Kevin Jones

Sixty.

That’s how many names were called were called on June 28, the night of the 2012 NBA Draft. And none of those names was “Kevin Jones” – the man who led the one of the toughest conferences in the country in scoring and rebounding.

While Jones and his family waited for the call on that Thursday night, NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver ran through the Draft’s second round, with names like İzzet Türkyılmaz and Ognjen Kuzmić and Tomislav Zubcic coming off the board.

When the smoke cleared, Jones – a Second Team All-American who Bob Huggins called the hardest worker he’d ever coached – went undrafted.

“Of course it was disappointing, because you felt like you put in the hard work and you’ve done enough to get drafted – at least somewhere; you figure a team would see something in you,” said the rugged 6-8 forward. “But it didn’t happen, and it might have been a blessing in disguise. Because it seemed like teams were just picking guys to stash overseas.

“So, I think me – being a free agent – I was able to pick the system that I fit best in. And I guess I have more of a choice with everything now. And that was just ultimately better.”

The system that Jones will try to fit in – here in Cleveland – has no problem developing undrafted players. Alonzo Gee just inked a deal to remain a Cavalier and will likely be the starting small forward to open the season. Samardo Samuels – another Big East standout who fell off the Draft board – is beginning his third year with the Wine and Gold.

Jones faced off against Samuels while at West Virginia and has battled some Big East foes at Cleveland Clinic Courts in recent weeks. Aside from Samardo, Jones has also matched up against Luke Harangody and Dion Waiters.

How did he fair against his current teammates back in college?

“Some wins, some losses, but overall, pretty even,” smiled Jones, adding, “Although we could never get Syracuse while I was there.”

There wasn’t much that Jones didn’t accomplish individually in Morgantown.

As a second-team All-American, Jones led the conference – netting 19.9 points on 50.9 percent shooting and 10.9 boards per contest. Despite his dominance, Marquette’s Jae Crowder was named Big East Player of the Year.

Jones would eventually finish his college career scoring more than 1,800 points and grabbing more than 1,000 rebounds, becoming just the second player in West Virginia history to do that. The first was a guy named Jerry West.

On Draft night, the Mount Vernon, N.Y. native fell prey to the “production vs. potential” paradox that NBA talent evaluators struggle with each season. And Jones, who’s considered undersized and a “below-the-rim” player, got caught in the numbers game.

Jones’ highlight reel isn’t filled with high-flying aerial antics or dazzling dunks. “He is one of those guys who doesn't win the beauty contest, he just wins the battle," opined Jones’ agent, Bill Neff.

But not getting his name called in late June might have actually landed him in the best situation.

“Actually, I was supposed to have a pre-Draft workout (in Cleveland) and I hurt my foot a couple days before I was supposed to come work out,” explained Jones. “(The Cavs) scheduled a phone interview with me and the coaches asked me a couple questions. We just talked from there. And they had always shown an interest in me, but I could never get out there to work out for them.

Kevin Jones“Then, after the Draft was over and I went undrafted, they were the first team to call my agent and show interest. And you could just see that they saw something in me that they felt they could use. So I knew it was a great situation for me.”

That foot injury – a stress reaction on his left heel – kept him out of Summer League play in Vegas. Without the benefit of that week in Sin City, Jones will have to use Training Camp to further impress Cavaliers coaches.

With Camp still a few days away, Jones hasn’t been under the watchful eye of Byron Scott – but he feels like he’ll be comfortable with his coaching style.

“He’s a similar coach to Coach Huggins – a really tough-minded coach, really gets after it,” said Jones. “He expects a lot out of his guys. I’m used to that, playing under Coach Huggins. I’m used to that rugged, tough-edged style. I think I can fit in pretty well here.”

For fans who didn’t watch Jones play at West Virginia, his game is most often compared to Miami’s Udonis Haslem – a versatile, blue-collar guy who can hit the 18-footer but isn’t afraid to bang in the paint.

“I’m just going to come out here and be the hardest worker, be the most productive guy – do what other guys won’t do or are unable to do,” said the former Mountaineer. “Be a rebounder that gets extra possessions for the team. Be good on defense – talk a lot. This is a young team and the more a team talks, the better the chemistry.

“That’s what I’m going to do: try to find my niche with this team and be the best at it.”

Kevin Jones has his work cut out for him. But he’s with an organization that prides itself on developing diamonds in the rough. And beginning on Monday, he’ll have the same opportunity as everyone else as Training Camp tips off.

“I feel like I’d done enough and proved enough that I can play at a high level,” concluded Jones. “You have to roll with the punches. It’s not the first time in my life that I’ve had to work hard for something; it’s just another stepping stone that I had to get to. And I’m going to keep doing what I can to be productive and make the team. All I can do is carry the burden on my end.”