Dec. 21, 2003
Former Fresno State Coach Jerry Tarkanian expressed his concern in facing Santa Clara in the second game of the year with freshman guard Brian Jones, who debuted with a 2-for-12 shooting effort against top-ranked Kansas at the San Jose Arena.
"He missed his first 10 shots and still kept shooting," said Tark. "That means he must think he's pretty good in a program like that, so we're a little worried."
It's a supreme confidence and internal fire that keeps Jones going, now in his first full year playing for Tubingen of the 2nd division German Bundesliga. B.J. joined the team in the middle of last season and to say he's made an impression would be an understatement. With Jones, the team has lost only one game while he leads the league in scoring and steals, second in assists. So far, the game has been much less of an adjustment than dealing with a new culture.
"I was there last year for a little bit and didn't know anything," said Jones. "The language barrier is the hardest thing to handle. But now, I've gotten to the point where I can communicate a little bit. Finding food and saying things like thank you. I can't hold a true conversation yet, but pick up a little bit as I go along.
"There's no Jack in the Box or 7-11. The little things here are different. EVERYTHING is closed on Sunday with the exception of maybe the gas station. But I've got good managers and owners that take care of things. At home I get NBA games every week, the NFL and wrestling to keep in touch."
The opportunity overseas came when former Bronco Ewe Sauer wanted to make a change with an American on the roster giving the baton to Jones who ran with it. Current assistant coach Lloyd Pierce played for Sauer and had been dropping Jones' name to catch a break. With his success, one wonders why it took a couple years for B.J. to get a chance to showcase his game.
"Just being relatively unknown on a national scene is a big part of it," says Pierce. "Everyone that's played against him or with him knows exactly what you're going to get out of B.J. But that doesn't carry over so much outside of college. Sometimes you need a little extra marketing or promotion to get the name out there."
There were more than a few doubts, including from Jones himself as the viability of a pro career after a devastating knee injury suffered the summer after his sophomore year. On June 28, 1998, Jones was undercut on a breakaway lay up during a summer league game in San Francisco. His right kneecap was dislocated along with bone and tissue damage.
"I'm not going to lie," Brian says. "After the injury, I never really felt quite right until now. I'm able to just play instinctively without having to think so much. My game feels like it's flowing again, just like my first two years at Santa Clara."
The numbers alone are enough to place him among the all-time greats at Santa Clara: number-one all-time in assists eclipsing Steve Nash and trailing only Rambis and Keeling in points. His freshman-record 36 points rallied SCU from 19 down to beat Marquette his freshman year. He led two other rallies from 19-point deficits to beat Chatanooga in Iowa City and a classic come-from-behind win over Pepperdine in the WCC semi his senior year. I'd be remiss in leaving out the jumper to beat Butler in Cable Car and the three to force overtime against Penn at the Arena. However, game-winning shots and stats alone tell only a small part of his impact on the program.
"The thing that comes to the forefront with him right away is his competitiveness," says his former coach Dick Davey. "That's not taken lightly. I've don't think I've coached any players before that wanted to win more and gave of themselves. He was always energized defensively, offensively and rebounding. He tried to do everything well to give his team a chance. That's the thing I have the most memories about."
While Davey has many favorites for a variety of reasons, there's an elite group that stands out for the fire and passion to win.
"Steve Kenilvort, Kurt Rambis, Scott Lamson, Steve Nash and Marlon Garnett are in there with Brian in terms of their competitiveness," says Davey. "Some were good offensive players, some not as good but all of them were competitors that really stand out. Guys that are that competitive embarrass the others to be that way too and are forced to try to compete at a higher level because the leader is doing it so I'd better do it."
It's a feeling echoed by former teammate Pierce.
"Either you're going to play at that level with him or you're not," said Pierce. "If you're not, he's one of those guys who's going to get on you to put pressure on you. He's going to talk to you about it and is a leader in the sense that the way he plays rubs off and if doesn't he'll be the first to let you know about it.
"One of the biggest things I always think about was a comment that either Marlon (Garnett), Drew (Zurek) or Jake (Sedlock) said their senior year. He said he wished he had an ounce of the confidence Brian had as a freshman. He plays hard the entire time so you turn your game up a little bit in terms of confidence and intensity."
Another player whose confidence has given him an edge is current point guard Kyle Bailey. He was asked when he started at Santa Clara who was the best player he faced. At that time the answer was fellow Alaska native and former Duke Blue Devil center Carlos Boozer. When the same question was asked later in the year, the answer was Brian Jones because he played against him every day in practice.
"He forced you to never be lazy because he would take advantage of you if you did," said Bailey. "Being around him all the time gave me a lot more respect of his game and what he brought."
Even if he was 4-for-15 shooting and the game was on the line, any Santa Clara fan would want B.J. to take the shot. My final memory of Jones as a Bronco was his final game against Gonzaga on a Monday night for the WCC title. With just a couple seconds left and his team down three, Jones inbounded the ball, only to have 2 Zags run at him to keep him from getting it back. With all that he'd done and all that he'd been through, he deserved to take the final shot. Assistant Sam Scuilli reiterates my belief that if Jones was able to let it fly, he would have drained it.
"I don't have any regret about that experience," says B.J. "I don't have any regret in not taking the last shot. If I could draw it up, I'd like to take that shot. As a competitor, I live for those moments. The thing is, I took the ball in my whole career and if you have a few seconds, then the ball could be worked back to me. There just wasn't enough time and Jamie (Holmes) got a pretty good look."
Every former player I'm blessed to come across talks about how they miss the college experience and Jones is no different.
"I would say that I miss it and my friends and the relationships that I built in college. At the same time, during that part of my life, my friends and family told me to take advantage of that time and try and soak up everything. In that way, I have no regrets about anything during my time at santa clara, I played hard and gave everything I had."
Jones's current team is 26-1 since his arrival and the hope is for the squad to move to the first division next year. Only a point differential prevented them from making the move this year. With the success of his team and individual numbers, Jones certainly will have options once this season is over. For now, the task is to lead this team in a small college town to a title. Carrying a team is nothing new for Jones. He's been doing it for years.