Jones at Slam Dunk for All-Star Weekend

Jones a Slam-Dunk
for All-Star Weekend

By John Clayton
Indianapolis, Feb. 9, 2004


Fred Jones figures he’s an underdog in this weekend’s Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Contest. But the way Jones flies, he might be confused with Underdog himself.

Impressive dunks are a crowd-pleasing staple of Jones’ offensive arsenal. The 6-4 guard considers himself a power dunker with explosive lift, perfect for rising through and above a crowd at the rim. But the usually quiet Jones was concerned about how that style would translate into the contest, so he initially turned down the NBA’s offer to compete. The people closest to him helped change his mind.

“It was pretty much friends and family pressure,” Jones said. “All my boys wanted to go out there and enjoy themselves and have a good time. The family has never been. Plus, I’ve dreamed about it all my life. It’s just that at first when they asked, I didn’t think I was ready for it.”

Video highlights of Jones would suggest otherwise. With increased playing time in his sophomore NBA season, Jones has shown the sports world the athleticism that first impressed former Pacers coach Isiah Thomas enough to lobby for Jones as the 14th overall pick of the 2002 NBA Draft. A recent highlight against Phoenix included a blocked shot in which Jones’ head grazed the bottom of the backboard. It wasn’t a dunk, though Jones added a couple of those against the Suns as well, but it gave an example of Jones’ superior leaping ability.

Now that the decision has been made, Jones gets to see how he compares with competitors he idolized in past All-Star dunk contests that featured the likes of Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan and Spud Webb. He'll also measure up against some premium contemporaries. Jones will be competing against two-time defending champion Jason Richardson of the Golden State Warriors, Ricky Davis of the Boston Celtics and Chris Andersen of the Denver Nuggets.

“I don’t know if I’ll try to pattern myself after anybody,” Jones said. “I’m going to bring my own little flare to it.”

With Jones’ decision to participate in the contest came advice from his Pacers teammates. Jonathan Bender, who competed in the contest in 2001, said he would have some suggestions for Jones.

“Just come up with some new stuff,” said Bender. “I’ve got some ideas I’m going to give him.”

Jones welcomed Bender’s advice with a shake of his head.

“What Jonathan doesn’t understand is that he’s 7-feet and I’m 6-3,” he said. “I’m open to ideas, but realistic ideas.”

Noted low-flyer Scot Pollard also had at least one idea for Jones as he prepares for the contest, which is set for 8:30 p.m. (EST) Saturday and will be televised on TNT.

“I have one I like to call the Footer Special,” Pollard said. “It’s one that only seven-footers can do, not six-footers. It’s kind of a version of the Statue of Liberty. It’s when a seven-footer gets it on the right block, turns middle, goes up one hand, one leg, dunks the ball, maybe an inch off the ground. Basically, he’s on the ground before he even lets go of the rim. As little athletic ability as you could possibly have in a dunk. It used to be my favorite, but I can’t even do that one anymore. . . . (Fred) would probably look good doing it. He’d be four feet in the air, banging his head on the rim, stuff like that.”

The competitors in this year’s Sprite Rising Stars Slam Dunk Contest have not been announced, but Jones, tips duly noted, said he is as ready to take off – for Los Angeles and then to the rim.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and try my best and whatever happens, it’ll be a fun experience.”