ESPN senior college basketball writer Jeff Goodman was on campus for one of Rick Pitino’s practices last week. On his “Insider” blog earlier this afternoon, Goodman made it very clear that he feels newcomer Chris Jones is the key to this year’s Louisville team.
Chris Jones scares me. Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown.
He drives down the lane, penetrates too deep and then makes an ill-advised pass that leads to a turnover. On the next possession, he once again gets into the paint, this time going so fast that he slips and falls to the ground.
Later in practice, though, he looks far more composed, driving and somehow finishing over two defenders while off-balance. Then he pulls up on a dime and buries a picturesque 18-footer.
The 5-foot-10 Jones comes to Louisville with a lot of hype and expectations, and he has to follow Peyton Siva, one of the most beloved players ever to come through the program.
Jones is a future NBA player, if you listen to Cardinals coach Rick Pitino or Wichita State assistant Steve Forbes, who coached Jones the last two seasons in the junior college ranks. They both rave about his competitiveness and talent level. But both worry about his ability to control his emotions.
He’s tough. Memphis-tough, which is about as lofty a compliment you can bestow on anyone. He grew up in Orange Mound, the southeastern section of the city, and would beg opponents to foul him so he could learn how to play through contact.
“It’s real tough,” Jones said of his neighborhood. “Not everybody makes it out. Not everybody makes it to 17.”
There are moments when Jones looks the part of a junior college All-American and future pro. There are, however, others when he looks overwhelmed by the pace of the game, Pitino’s system and having to balance scoring while keeping his teammates content.
In essence, Jones is the key to Pitino making a third consecutive trip to the Final Four, and also in defending Louisville’s national title.
Jones knows it. Pitino knows it. Heck, the entire city of Louisville knows it.
At the Louisville Basketball media day over the weekend, Jones made it pretty clear that he is aware of the expectations that he has in his first year. Considering how fierce of a competitor that he is, I highly doubt he’ll be backing down from the challenge.
“Siva was maybe the most-liked player ever to play here,” Jones tells Goodman. “But I think people are just waiting to see what I can do. I’m more talented offensively, so I think they’ll probably like me more.”
Rick Pitino maintains that Jones won’t be filling Siva’s shoes, simply because they’re two completely different players. Pitino certainly seems confident in Jones’ ability to control the offense.
“He’s definitely a point guard. He can run the team,” Pitino tells Goodman. “I like him a lot. He’s a competitor. He doesn’t bother me at all. The only issue he’s going to have is the referees. He never thinks he fouls.”