Jones ready to play leading role for Kentucky

He’s the leading returning scorer on what could be the best team in recent Kentucky memory. Still, heading into the 2011-12 season, forward Terrence Jones said he doesn’t feel any more pressure than he did a year ago, when he helped lead the Wildcats to the Final Four.

Terrence Jones spent the summer in the weight room and getting to know his new teammates.
(Richard Mackson/US Presswire)

“Actually,” Jones said Tuesday, “I feel less pressure.”

With highly-ranked freshmen such as Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist and Marquis Teague joining the program – not to mention the return of starters Doron Lamb and Darius Miller – Jones is quickly realizing he’ll be one of many scoring options for Kentucky.

The Wildcats didn’t have that kind of depth last season, when they advanced to the Final Four with only six players averaging double-digit minutes.

“Last year we depended a lot on me and Brandon (Knight) and Doron,” said Jones, who averaged 15.7 points and a team-high 8.8 rebounds as a freshman. “This season we’ll have six or seven guys who could score 20 points any given game, so there won’t be as much pressure for any one player.”

That Jones is even around to discuss this season’s team is a blessing for Kentucky fans, most of whom expected the 6-foot-8 Portland, Ore., native to turn pro after his freshman year. Analysts predicted Jones would’ve been a top 15 pick in June’s NBA draft.

Jones, though, said leaving school would’ve been a mistake.

“A lot of people thought I was going to be one-and-done,” Jones said. “Playing for coach Calipari and being a top freshman … that’s usually what happens. But he’ll tell you it was no one’s decision but my own. I told him I wanted to come back.

“I didn’t want to rush into something that might be a bad situation with this NBA lockout, just not knowing what was going on with that. To me, there were a lot of reasons why I should stay in college.”

Jones spent most of his summer in Lexington, working on his ball-handling skills, shooting and conditioning while adding strength and bulk. Jones said he weighed 240 pounds as a freshman. Now he’s up to 250. He hopes the extra muscle will help him absorb contact better under the basket, enabling him to finish plays.

When he wasn’t working out, Jones took an equal interest in setting a good example for the Wildcats’ newcomers.

“I wanted to make sure that I was going as hard as I could in front of my new teammates,” he said. “It’s obvious they look up to me. I try to show them how to do the right thing and what’s best for them. When they ask me questions, I try to play the big brother role that my teammates played for me last year.

“College can be shocking for a freshman, because everything is so much different than high school. Everything is much more serious. It takes time to get used to. The summer is the best and easiest time to do it.”

Jones said he likes what he’s seen from the freshmen thus far. He said they “push themselves” and that, off the court, they couldn’t be fitting in any better with the Wildcats’ veterans.

John Calipari disagrees with draft watchers concerned Jones hurt his prospects by returning to school.
(Mark Zerof/US Presswire)

“I feel like I’ve known them for years,” he said.

Although the newcomers’ presence may take some of the pressure off of Jones, he certainly doesn’t expect his role to change. Jones is extremely aggressive when it comes to attacking the basket, but he also has the ability to score from the perimeter.

Jones’ true position has been questioned by NBA personnel. He’s listed as a small forward, but last season he spent a considerable amount of time in the paint with his back to the basket. There is also the opinion that Jones’ decision to return to school may hurt his draft stock, because Gilchrist is supposedly good enough to steal some of Jones’ minutes.

Calipari, though, is confident NBA scouts look at more than just statistics when assessing a player.

“I’m very happy for Terrence and his family,” Calipari said. “He did the right thing for his future, but he had to come to that conclusion. He told me he wanted to continue enjoying the college experience and I told him that was fine by me.”

Jones said he hasn’t had any second thoughts.

“In most situations,” Jones said, “people feel it’s best to go to the NBA to better themselves and help out their families. I just felt I’d get better this year playing on a team that I was more of a leader on. I’d gain maturity and be more mentally confident when I do decide to go into the NBA. Being able to have a bigger impact than whatever I would’ve had this year.”

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Jason King is a college football and basketball writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Aug 16, 2011