Ducks' Jones Finally Lives Up to Potential

March 21, 2002

By LANDON HALL
AP Sports Writer

EUGENE, Ore. - When Freddie Jones was in high school, everyone told himhe was destined for stardom. He never had reason to doubt them.

Jones' first three seasons at Oregon presented a hard lesson in the perilsof believing one's own hype, however. The 6-foot-4 guard showed glimpses ofsuperb play, dazzling fans with his flashy dunks. But he just wasn't quiteas good as advertised. Certainly not what people expected from the state'sfirst two-time 4A prep player of the year.

As a senior, though, Jones' play has finally equaled the buildup. After aslow start, he has produced one of the best single seasons in schoolhistory, and he's the main reason the Ducks have advanced to the round of 16in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 42 years.

'Sometimes with young people, they need to have that sense of urgency beforethe light bulb comes on,' coach Ernie Kent said. 'Certainly, we've tried tostress that upon him for the last couple years, and it really hasn't set inuntil this year.'

Entering Friday's third-round Midwest Regional game between thesecond-seeded Ducks and sixth-seeded Texas, Jones has scored in doublefigures 25 straight games, and as the stakes have gotten higher, he haselevated his game. He's averaging 22.8 points over his last nine games, andhas raised his average to 18.5, up more than six points since a bad earlystretch that included three straight losses.

In a particularly lethargic performance against lightly regarded Portland,Jones committed three offensive fouls and scored just six points in theDucks' 79-78 loss. Following a 75-72 defeat at Minnesota, Kent made Jones areserve against Pepperdine and Northern Arizona. Jones got the message,scoring a combined 36 points in the two games.

'He just had a little bit of a slump, and it was an opportunity for him totake a different look at it,' Kent said. 'Once he did it, he came back andhe's been great ever since.'

Jones was first able to dunk the ball in eighth grade, and over his lastthree years at Barlow High in Gresham, just east of Portland, the Bruinswent 55-6. After averaging 29.9 points as a senior, he was recruited byArizona, UCLA, Southern California and Utah but chose to stay near home andplay at Oregon, which had made just one NCAA tournament appearance since1961.

'I came in wanting to be a great player as soon as I hit the court,' Jonessaid. 'That didn't (happen). I'm still not a great player. I still have alot to accomplish. I'm right where I want to be right now, though.'

Jones averaged 9.1 points as a freshman and 9.7 as a sophomore, when theDucks made it to the NCAA tournament before losing to Seton Hall in thefirst round. He boosted his scoring to 14.8 last season, but the Ducks lost13 of their last 17 games and finished 14-14.

'This is a whole 'nother scenario right now,' Jones said. 'We're playingwell, we're winning, and that makes everything better.'

Oregon completed a 16-0 home record by beating Washington, led by 33 pointsfrom Jones. In a 67-65 win at USC on Feb. 28, Jones made the firstgame-winning basket of his life when he drove the lane and hit a leaningeight-foot jumper with one second left. Two days later, Jones made theclinching bucket with 13 seconds left in a 65-62 win over UCLA at PauleyPavilion, where Oregon had lost 17 straight.

The victory gave the Ducks their first outright conference title since 1939,when they won the inaugural NCAA tournament.

'Freddie's a big-time player and he's going to step up in big-time moments,'point guard Luke Ridnour said. 'Each game we have is a big-time moment forus.'

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