Senior Jones a mentor for young Mountaineers
West Virginia senior Kevin Jones addressed his young teammates during Wednesday's practice at Palumbo Center because he knew what awaited them down the street.
Among his advice: Don't be shy when you reach Consol Energy Center, and make sure to cherish your time in the NCAA Tournament.
Along with scorer and rebounder, the talented forward has added mentor to his skill set.
"He gives you confidence," said Keaton Miles, a freshman starter.
For Jones and teammate Darryl "Truck" Bryant, this will be their fourth appearance in the NCAA Tournament -- including a Final Four run in 2010. But for the eight freshmen among the Mountaineers' top 12 players -- two of the freshmen start -- this is their first exposure.
Yet these Mountaineers have abundant confidence.
"Me and Truck have tried to set a blueprint for what they need to do and how to be successful," said Jones, who credited Da'Sean Butler with boosting his confidence four years ago. "Hopefully we did a good job."
No. 10 seed West Virginia (19-13) begins its tournament at 7:20 p.m. today against No. 7 seed Gonzaga (25-6), which also has two freshmen starters. It's the third of four games at Consol Energy Center and the first-ever meeting between WVU and Gonzaga. The winner plays the winner of No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Loyola (Md.).
The Mountaineers have lost eight of their past 12 games, including a 71-67 loss to Connecticut in the Big East Tournament.
Yet Jones gives them hope.
The 6-foot-8, 260-pound forward led the Big East in points (20.1) and rebounds (11.1). Jones considered entering the NBA Draft after his junior season but opted to return.
Without him, they might not be in the NCAA Tournament, said freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds.
"When things were down, they always picked us up," Hinds said.
Stopping Jones will be Gonzaga's priority, said 7-foot center Robert Sacre, who insisted he was eager to play a physical game with the Mountaineers.
"We've got to limit his touches," Sacre said, "and make sure he doesn't get easy baskets. He's a great offensive rebounder. That's where he gets most of his baskets. We have to make sure that nothing comes easy for him."
Freshman point guard Kevin Pangos leads the Bulldogs in scoring (13.8 ppg). In Bryant's mind, that makes things even.
"(Pangos) hasn't been here before and doesn't know what it's like to play in this type of environment," Bryant said. "We've got a freshman point guard, and they've got a freshman point guard. That's how I look at it."
A loss would end the college careers of Jones and Bryant, something that weighed heavily on freshman guard Gary Browne.
"They've done so much for us," he said, "and we can't let them down."
Jones was a sophomore starter when West Virginia reached the 2010 Final Four. He said he believes this team has the talent to make another long postseason run, but much of that is young, inconsistent talent.
"We can beat anybody," Jones said, "but we could also lose to anybody, which is a scary thing."