LEXINGTON - Kentucky sophomore forward Terrence Jones, the preseason Southeastern Conference player of the year, has often been overshadowed by the play of freshman teammates Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, as well as the late-game heroics of senior Darius Miller.
However, Jones remains UK’s third leading scorer (12.2 points per game) and rebounder (6.7 per game). He’s second in blocked shots with 51, third in steals with 34 is shooting 50.2 percent from the field.
“No one should underestimate what he means to our team,” Miller said. “He’s doing a lot of things different from what he had to do last year. His role changed and he’s been fine with that. He just wants to win like the rest of us do.”
Jones considered leaving UK after last season for the NBA before deciding to return even though he likely could have been a late lottery pick. The No. 1 Cats play their final regular-season home game Thursday against Georgia, and if Jones does opt for the NBA after this season as expected, it would also be his final Rupp Arena appearance. However, he said “I just don’t know” what the future yet holds after Saturday’s game.
“You never know with the situation. I know Darius has been here four years and Eloy is a senior and it’s going to be their night. It’s just going to be a good night to celebrate them being seniors here and just working so hard the whole time they have been here,” Jones said.
He added that family members from Portland, Ore., would not be here for the game.
Jones talked about the team,¿Miller, Davis and more after Saturday’s win over Vanderbilt that clinched the SEC title for Kentucky.
Question: Do you know how to take the criticism from coach John Calipari and turn it into a positive?
Jones: “We are competitive enough to take any challenge that he gives us or says to us and go with it.”
Question: How much does the way Darius Miller has been playing in the second half of games help this team?
Jones: “He is just being a senior and a guy on this team that plays a lot of minutes who doesn’t want to lose. He is coming in off the bench and coming in shooting and that’s a tough job to do. It’s hard to sit and try to get going. But he comes in with confidence and we all believe in his shooting ability, so when he lets it go we usually think it is going down.
“I just think he has been playing this way for the last five or six games. He is going to knock it down.¿He doesn’t think he is going to miss late and is just shooting with confidence. It’s different every game what he does. He usually can get shots off somebody else kicking off to him or he can go create it himself. It’s just how he play and you notice how much he wants the ball and how he’s going to score.”
Question: What does it do for the team when he gets on that second-half roll?
Jones: “I think after him and Doron (Lamb) hit two, they are going to start making a lot of shots.”
Question: Why does this team not only talk about a will to win like a lot of teams do but also go out and actually will itself to wins?
Jones: “I think it is just because of how much we play together as a team and feel that we need one another to win, not just one guy. We all don’t think we should just put it on one guy. Any time in a big possession it could be any of us scoring or making the big rebound or big putback or stop. We just believe we need one another as a team.”
Question: What has the senior leadership of Miller and Eloy Vargas meant to this team going into their Senior Night game on Thursday?
Jones: “Oh, man. They have really been big brothers to me.¿Just coming on campus as a new freshman and their advice on who to talk to, where to go to eat, how is the city and everything when I first got here. To have those two dudes give me their whole experience about college basketball was just great. It’s just going to be a real special game and a game for them to celebrate how they played here. I am excited for them.”
Question: How much has Anthony Davis’ confidence offensively grown to where he can be the player to hit shots late in the shot clock?
Jones: “Real different from beginning of season to now. With time and just practicing and working out, he has just gained a lot of confidence and it is showing. He is definitely the player of the year in college basketball. It’s tough for any team when he hits shots like that and get scored on right at the end. It’s either good execution or luck for us.”
Question: How does this team now compare to team that beat Ohio State/North Carolina in NCAA Tournament?
Jones: “The similarity is just how much we depend on all five players on the court and how we expect all five players to do whatever they do to the best of their ability and do their job. I just think that this team and last year’s team did to be successful. We depend on all five players and just talk on both sides of the ball and need each other to win.
“The difference would be how long this team is and how athletic we play when it just comes to blocking shots and just being high with five guys getting above five rebounds. Just having guys play with a lot more confidence overall.”