An Arizona player was going to have to transfer sometime this offseason to alleviate the program's scholarship overload, but Wildcats fans probably didn't expect their leading returning scorer to be the one to leave.
Point guard MoMo Jones will transfer to a school closer to his New York home, Arizona announced Monday night. The official reason Jones gave for his departure is he wants to be closer to his grandmother, but the sophomore's starting job was also in jeopardy as a result of the arrival of highly touted incoming freshman Josiah Turner.
"I want it to be known that I love this program, my coaches and teammates," Jones said in a statement released by Arizona. "I appreciate everyone for supporting me through this tough time."
How much the loss of Jones diminishes Arizona's chances of making a deep NCAA tourney run next year depends on several factors.
On the one hand, Jones was an emotional leader and secondary scoring option behind Derrick Williams for an Arizona team that reached the Elite Eight last March. On the other hand, both Turner and promising sophomore-to-be Jordin Mayes are more traditional point guards than a New York-bred scoring guard like Jones.
Jones said all the right things when Arizona signed Turner and fellow elite guard Nick Johnson last fall, but it's easy to see the pride and competitiveness that made him a leader last season also leading to chemistry issues if his role was reduced. After all, it took a tearful New Year's Eve phone conversation with his mom to prevent him from transferring as a freshman when he was playing limited minutes behind Nic Wise.
The only way that the loss of Jones could truly be disastrous for Arizona is if Turner were to fail to qualify academically. There were concerns about Turner's academics even before the New York Daily News revealed the NCAA is looking into whether the high school Turner transferred to as a senior, Quality Education Academy, is a legitimate school or a diploma factory.
The wording of Arizona's release makes it clear Jones will likely apply for a hardship waiver to allow him to play right away next season at whichever New York-area school that lands him.
No matter where he goes next, however, he's earned a place in Arizona lore as one of the members of a team that re-established the program as one of college basketball's elite.