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Pitt swingman Jones ready for breakout season

| Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 9:48 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pitt freshman Chris Jones drives past Colorado's Tre'Shaun Fletcher during the second half of their NCAA second round game Thursday, March 20, 2014, at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.

Chris Jones knows his reputation as a player who dominates practices but disappears in games.

It's one the Pitt redshirt sophomore swingman is set on revising, just not necessarily the practice part.

When the Panthers hosted a rare open practice Tuesday morning at Petersen Events Center, Jones showed a willingness to take — and an ability to make — game-tying shots during a situational scrimmage.

The 6-foot-6, 213-pounder swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key to send it into overtime, then drew a last-second foul and sank two free throws to force another period.

Jones is attempting to seize a spot in the starting lineup to replace leading scorer Lamar Patterson, an NBA second-round pick, while redshirt junior Durand Johnson recovers from knee surgery.

“I'm not saying he's going to be Lamar — it's hard to replace a guy drafted by the NBA — but he's got an opportunity to step in and mean a lot for this team,” said junior point guard James Robinson, Jones' roommate.

“Chris has tremendous athletic ability, can handle the ball and can shoot the ball, and he's solid on defense. I know he was a little banged up last year, so he didn't play as much, but every day in practice he gives it his all. He's going to be a big-time player for us this year.”

Jones showed what he can do in practice last season, never missing one despite playing in pain after tearing thumb ligaments on his right (shooting) hand. (The injury required surgery after the season ended, causing him to miss the next two months).

But Jones' success failed to translate to game days. His statistics dipped dramatically despite increased playing time when Johnson was lost for the season and Patterson injured his thumb.

After shooting 55.2 percent (16 of 29) from the field and making all 11 free-throw attempts in 6.2 minutes per game in nonconference play, Jones shot 32 percent (8 of 25) from the field and 64.3 percent (9 of 14) from the foul line in 8.4 minutes per game against ACC opponents.

“All of a sudden, Durand's down and (Chris is) thrown in there with an injured thumb and not many minutes,” coach Jamie Dixon said. “I think we're going to see a better Chris Jones this year, a better player. He should improve after the surgery.

“He's going to be a good player for us. He can shoot it, put the ball on the floor, and he's got good size and athleticism.”

Pitt players have raved about Jones' combination of size and strength, his ability to attack the basket and ability to score from the perimeter. They are expecting him to have a breakout season.

“I'm ready for him to explode,” fifth-year senior shooting guard Cameron Wright said. “It's a big year for him.”

Jones knows as much and believes he has yet to show his best.

“Definitely not,” Jones said. “Sometimes I played in spurts. I didn't play as good as I wanted to, really. I feel like I have a lot more to show people.”

Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

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