This time around, Philadelphia's Jumaine Jones
was in the right place at the right time, seated on the Sixers bench, in perfect position to hear Larry Brown call his name. When George Lynch
suffered a season-ending fracture of his foot in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Toronto, the second-year forward sprung into action and hasn't looked back since.
This wasn't the case approximately two years earlier, when Jones figured he was in the right place, but could barely hear his name when NBA Commissioner David Stern finally summoned him. It was the Green Room at the 1999 NBA Draft in Washington, D.C., and several of the top prospects and their families were gathered together waiting for Stern to call their names. The buzz was that Jones, an athletic 6-8 swingman, who played two seasons at Georgia before making himself available for the draft, was a lock to go in the first round. Some, including himself, felt he could be a lottery pick. Jones did get drafted -- with only two picks left in the first round -- going 27th to Atlanta. He had to fight off tears as he made his way to the podium to shake hands with the commissioner.
The disappointment of that evening has stayed with Jones, but so has a strong work ethic and positive attitude. A draft-day trade brought him to Philly and an injury has thrust him into the spotlight, perhaps sooner than he thought two years earlier. In four playoff starts since Lynch went down, Jones is averaging 9.7 points, including 16 points in Game 7 against Toronto, which helped the Sixers advance to face Milwaukee in the Conference Finals.
"I didn't expect it to come this soon," Jones said of his recent success, "but eventually I felt like if I worked hard enough, I would get to where I am right now."
In Game 1, Jones played a major role in holding Glenn Robinson
to 15 points on 7-for-22 shooting, including 1-for-10 in the first quarter. Defending Robinson is critical for the Sixers in this series and Jones getting the call signifies a vote of confidence from Brown. In the past, the newly crowned Coach of the Year has shown little interest in playing young players not known for their defense.
"I feel like he has more confidence in my defense," Jones said. "He is feeling comfortable that I can guard the tougher guys."
Jones played in only 33 games as a rookie and appeared in 65 games in the 2000-01 season, playing 13.3 minutes per game. He's seen by the franchise as a player with a bright future, but for the moment, the Sixers are grateful for whatever Jones can give them. Brown will likely go with a three-guard set in crucial moments, with Aaron McKie
shifting to small forward and Allen Iverson
and Eric Snow
manning the backcourt. But Jones won't be in the Green Room waiting to hear his name. He'll be on the floor for the opening tap, in charge of making sure Robinson doesn't get off to a hot start.
"I feel like the more time I play, the more comfortable I get," Jones said. "There are more things I can do."
The Sixers are counting on Jones to do them.
Rob Reheuser is a member of the NBA Editorial Staff.