Jones’ character in tough times defines what being a leader is all aboutby Javier Morales on May. 16, 2011, under Sports
Note: Lamont “MoMo” Jones is the first regular starter to transfer from the Arizona program since Ruben Douglas left for New Mexico during the 1999-2000 season. Douglas started 14 games in 1998-99 and was labeled a returning starter until Gilbert Arenas took over the starting role.
The snapshot of Lamont “MoMo” Jones’ brief Arizona career, in my opinion, was not his 27-point heroic performance at Cal this season or his buzzer-beater at Stanford as a freshman.
It was his demeanor in the Arizona locker room after Washington’s Isaiah Thomas nailed a game-winning jump shot over him as time expired in the Pac-10 tournament championship on March 12 in Los Angeles. The 77-75 overtime loss to the Huskies was hard enough to bear, but Jones also had one of his worst performances as a Wildcat.
Jones committed more turnovers (three) than he converted field goals (only one in a 1-of-8 afternoon).
He took it like a man. He did not hide from reporters. He did not offer one-word answers. He did not sulk. His eyes were not red from tears. I know this because he looked at me and other reporters in the eye. He spoke with conviction that he and his teammates would use the bitter loss as a springboard for the NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats reached the Elite Eight thanks in part to Jones’ 16-point performance (14 in the pivotal second half) in the Sweet 16 rout of Duke. Jones tallied six assists without a turnover in 28 minutes.
Arizona freshman sensation point guard Josiah Turner, who is bound to fill Jones’ spot in the starting lineup, should follow Jones’ lead in terms of being a leader by looking adversity in the eye. Arizona’s greatest — Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr among them — never ducked a hard moment.
Jones is no different. He is by no means the second-coming of Mike Bibby, but his leadership qualities do not take a backseat to most. Jones’ fiery, take-no-bull personality will be missed by the Wildcats. It’s a far cry from early in his freshman season, when UA coach Sean Miller benched him for complaining about playing time.
He matured mentally as much as Derrick Williams progressed physically in their two-year Arizona careers.
With Jones’ pending transfer to a school closer to his New York City home, Arizona just became decidedly younger and more wide-eyed.
During my journalism career, I have interviewed a number of college and professional athletes after forgettable performances. Unquestionably one of the most difficult tasks for a reporter is approaching a losing player, especially after a disheartening defeat.
When media gathers outside a solemn locker room, the topic of conservation is about which players and coaches will not talk.
The most difficult situation I can recall is walking toward an openly sobbing George Malauulu after the the Wildcats lost to ASU 7-6 at Arizona Stadium in 1992. Malauulu, a senior quarterback, could barely speak after the UA lost to ASU at home for the first time in 12 years. That was his last game in Tucson. Tough to swallow.
Malauulu had trouble with his words, but so did the reporters.
The silence was finally broken when a reporter asked Malauulu if he could answer a couple of questions. Malauulu nodded yes and tried the best he could. In my opinion, that kind of character is as much — or arguably more– about being a man as it is to pass for 300 yards and complete the game-winning touchdown pass.
Miller makes his players accountable for the most part. It’s unfortunate that Arizona allows media to generally talk to only three players after regular-season home games. Miller is media savvy enough to realize the ticket-buying population and the thousands of followers outside of Tucson gather most of their information from the press.
Miller has indicated to at least one Tucson media member that he is not opposed to allowing more post-game access. However, the norm remains that only three players talk to the media after home games. During the Pac-10 tournament, the conference rule is the locker rooms must be open to the media.
To Miller’s credit he did not inform any of his players to immediately depart the locker room after the upsetting loss at the hands of Thomas. He did not tell them to avoid questions from the media.
Jones followed suit by being upfront with the media. He acknowledged he defended Thomas the best he could. But it was obvious in Jones’ disgust that he replayed that play continuously in his mind.
He was accountable for his struggles in the game, saying that he was as angry as his coach about the loss. He could have already been on the team bus. He sat through every interview and continued to talk about the future and how much the Wildcats would be motivated in the NCAA tournament.
Jones tried to not look back. He could only control what was ahead of him.
Now his forward-thinking focuses on helping another program. By the time Jones returns to the court in 2012-13, after sitting out a season per NCAA transfer rules, he will be more mature than he is now.
Another coach and team is about to get the kind of leader the Wildcats can now only hope for.