Quick Transition : Freshman Dana Jones Plays Key Role in Pepperdine's Title Run

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There are many things that Larry Steele, the University of Portland basketball coach, likes about Pepperdine freshman forward Dana Jones--and one thing he doesn't.

Steele said Jones is "a solid basketball player. He can score, rebound and play good defense. . . . He has a great basketball personality. He works hard and has composure.

"The thing I don't like about him is that he is a freshman and we have to face him for the next three years."

Jones, the City Section 3-A Division player of the year in 1989-90 when he led North Hollywood High to the division championship, has been drawing similar comments from players, coaches and fans all over the West Coast Conference.

Winner of its first WCC regular-season championship since 1986, Pepperdine has relied heavily on Jones in rolling to a 22-8 record and a 16-game winning streak heading into NCAA tournament play.

Jones has kept pace with the team's more experienced players and has appeared to improve with every game, particularly in WCC play.

He is third in scoring with a 10-point average, second in rebounding at 8.1 and second in steals at 1.6. He was an honorable-mention selection in voting for the All-WCC team and was chosen freshman player of the year. In Pepperdine's three conference tournament victories Jones had 38 points and 31 rebounds.

Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury said that Jones has "probably done better than I thought he'd do--and I thought he'd be real good. I didn't think he'd be quite as complete a player as he is--his maturity, the way he goes about business.

"He's responsible and even-tempered. He has the ability to maintain his poise and composure, resulting in pretty consistent efforts.

"He is our top defensive player in terms of consistency, which is very rare for a freshman."

Jones, who usually draws the best offensive player from the other team, has guarded UCLA's Tracy Murray, Arizona's Chris Mills and Terrell Lowery of Loyola Marymount.

"He has great defensive concentration and focus and is very unselfish," Asbury said.

Jones credits much of his development to his coach at North Hollywood, Steve Miller.

"Not only was (Miller) a good coach, but he also talked to you off the court," Jones said. "He made me feel comfortable with everything. Not just basketball, though he had a lot to do with that, but as far as my development as a person too."

Jones' play was hampered early in the season because of a hip injury that caused Jones to miss one game and not start in four others.

Jones (6-foot-6, 190 pounds) played center in high school but is a small forward at Pepperdine.

"I spent my whole high school career with my back to the basket," he said. "Now I'm facing the basket, which is something I'm going to have to work on."

Asbury has other plans for the versatile freshman. He wants Jones to learn to play shooting guard. Jones is a likely successor at guard to Doug Christie, who will complete his eligibility after next season.

"His perimeter game is still in the refinement process," Asbury said of Jones. "He was kind of a low-post player in high school, a guy who would score down on the block. He has to improve his ballhandling and perimeter shooting."

Jones has been trying to develop an outside shot, which now "is a whole lot better than it was in high school. Right now I just have to get my confidence up because I know I can make it."

He is not fazed by the physicality of the college game although he has picked up some bumps and bruises this season.

In Pepperdine's conference opener against the University of San Diego, Jones was elbowed in the mouth and took three stitches in his lip.

Recently, against Portland, he scored 16 points in the first half. But about seven minutes into the second half, Jones and another player collided. Jones caught a knee in the thigh and was sidelined for much of the rest of the game.

"In high school, I was bigger than most people," Jones said. "Here, you can't let up for one minute."

He might have been taller than other people in high school, but he was definitely not wider. In college, he is shorter than most players and carries a lot less bulk.

Jones said that he lifts weights and seldom misses a meal. "I'm the type of person who can eat a lot but won't gain weight," he said.

Stature in the Pepperdine program, however, is another matter.

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