Jones Shines For Trojans
By Alex Shoemaker
Coming off of a season that ended in an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the 2012 USC Trojans have not had much cheer about. But sophomore Maurice Jones, a native of Saginaw, Mich., has garnered a great deal of praise this season, despite the team's record.
In 34 games in action as a freshman, Jones averaged 9.9 PPG, 2.6 APG and 3.2 RPG. Numbers worthy of freshmen all-conference recognition. Now in his second season, Jones has stepped his numbers up from a sensational freshman campaign, which he started in 25 games and set a USC freshman record with 69 steals on the year.
"I tried to build off of what I accomplished last year," said Jones. "I put in work in the offseason. You can't stop working. It's a grind day in and day out."
Jones is now averaging around 13 points per game and more than three assists per game., both team highs. But what might be most impressive about Jones is his relentless energy. Averaging 38.0 minutes per contest, there are few players in the entire Pac-12 Conference with as much importance to their team as Jones.
"It's tough. I play with a lot of enthusiasm," said Jones. "I don't think about being tired when I play. I just play basketball."
Jones plays an aggressive style of basketball, and averages 1.8 steals per game, twice as many steals a game than the next Trojan.
"Coming out here, the basketball is definitely a lot different. I feel like a lot of West Coast schools are more focused on playing offense," said Jones. "In Michigan, it's a defense-minded game. It's just different basketball."
Along with the defensive-minded aspect of the game, Jones said that adapting to the game was difficult at first, but that he got used to it quickly. Considering that he scored 29 points in his second career game, it's clear he certainly did get the feel of it.
Jones chose to enroll at USC with offers from numerous schools from across the country. He said that while he seriously considered schools like Duquesne and Oakland, in his heart and mind Southern California was the place for him to be.
"I liked the coaching staff. It was the right fit for me and I have no regrets," he said. "I love living here. My teammates are great and I have high hopes for me and my teammates."
Jones said he believes that his height - 5-foot-7 - kept some elite programs from seriously pursuing him. Schools like Kansas, Michigan and North Carolina took looks at Jones, but did not offer scholarships.
"I feel like my size did scare some schools. I know I can play ball, and I'm out here to prove myself," he said. "Getting to play at USC is a real honor. They've got a good thing going and I chose the right school for me."
USC has continued to hit the recruiting trails hard and could sign some elite talent with immediate impact. Needless to say, an eventual return trip to March Madness is likely for the Trojans.
"For my goals the rest of my time at USC," said Jones, "I would like to make it to the (NCAA) Tournament again. I think we can make it and we will be back better than ever next year. As for my personal goals, I'd like to play professional basketball some day."
With a lot of point guards looking at getting into the next level, consistency is at the forefront of concern for scouts. That is not the case with Jones.
Jones is only averaging a little over two turnovers a game and has proven that he has the ball security needed to make the transition.
"While playing in the NBA is a great goal, I'm focused on playing USC Trojan basketball," said Jones. "We have unfinished business. What comes after college - I'll cross that bridge when it's here."
When asked about who he thinks he is most similar too as a player, Jones took some time to think about before answering.
Jones said he sees similarities in his game and that of the NBA's Chris Paul.
"We're both good at finding guys and making our teammates better," Jones said. "Paul is a player I like to play like."
While 3.3 assists a game doesn't sound staggering, Jones' ability to energize the players around him is inspiring.
"I try to lift the guys during the game," said Jones. "If I see them slouching, I pick them up and give them some encouragement. I think being able to lift my teammates is something I'm good at."
While so much is ahead for Jones, he stays grounded and doesn't let success get to his head. Jones says he is just like everyone else.
"I'm just another guy on the team," he said. "I like to listen to music - hang out with friends. I'm Maurice."