On Jan. 6, three days after he’d returned from winter break to Fishburne Military School, Teven Jones was heading to take a shower when he got word that the prep school’s basketball coach, Ed Huckaby, wanted to speak with him.
Nine days later, Jones’s aunt, uncle and mother dropped him off at the University of Virginia, where he had enrolled – in whirlwind fashion – a semester early so that he could begin practicing with the Cavaliers men’s basketball team.
“At first I was a little worried about the team I was playing with [at Fishburne] because it flowed through me,” Jones said Tuesday. “But when [Huckaby] told me, I thought about it and started thinking it would be a good opportunity to get a head start. So I said yes.”
Jones, according to a Virginia team spokesman, is the program’s first recruit to enroll in the middle of an academic year since at least 1983-84. He is the first player to join the men’s basketball team from outside the university in the middle of a season since Tom Calloway transferred into the program in the spring of 1984. There have been a handful of Virginia football players who joined the men’s basketball team once the football season concluded.
Indeed, Jones represents a rare case. Men’s basketball recruits do not often enroll a semester early for a variety of reasons. Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson did it a few years ago. Jarnell Stokes did it at Tennessee this semester, though unlike Jones, Stokes is playing right away. While Jones is eligible to play, he will just practice with the Cavaliers the rest of this season and begin his four years of eligibility next season.
In college football, getting recruits to enroll a semester early is becoming an increasingly popular trend. In recent years, Virginia football recruits Michael Strauss, Will Hill, David Watford and Greyson Lambert all elected to attend the university about six months ahead of the rest of the members of their respective classes.
But football is a one-semester sport, whereas basketball overlaps between the fall and spring semesters. In addition to the fact that basketball recruits may not be academically eligible in time to enroll a semester early, college coaches worry about potentially damaging their recruiting relationships with high school coaches by removing one of their team’s major components in the middle of a season.
However, Jones was in a post-graduate preparatory school, not a high school. He already was an academic qualifier, and he already had submitted his formal application for fall of 2012 admittance to Virginia. Also, it was Huckaby’s idea to kick-start this process in the first place. Everything fell into place. This does not happen often.
After Huckaby and Jones discussed the idea on Jan. 6, Jones departed Fishburne and stayed at the house of his uncle, Alphonso Broadaway, for the following week. During that week, Virginia team, athletic department and university officials scrambled to expedite the enrollment process. It helped that the school already had his application and academic records. But there remained issues of compliance, medical forms, housing and even proof of insurance to sort out.
Last fall, Hill and Watford spoke about their respective enrollment processes, and each of them noted part of that included meetings with the university president. Had there been more time, Jones might have had a similar meeting. But in this case, team officials said, the university “let that go.”
On Jan. 12, a Thursday, the day Virginia played at Duke, Jones and Ronnie Wideman, the men’s basketball team’s assistant director of operations, spoke on the phone almost incessantly. The Cavaliers wanted to complete Jones’s enrollment the following day so that the team’s medical staff could begin assessing Jones and so that he would be able to attend classes when the university returned from winter break the following Wednesday.
“It had my head spinning for a good week,” Jones said.
He arrived on campus on Jan. 15 and moved into the four-bedroom apartment shared by sophomore forward Akil Mitchell and sophomore walk-on Thomas Rogers. In fact, Jones moved into the room formerly occupied by sophomore guard KT Harrell. It was the late December departures of Harrell and redshirt freshman forward James Johnson that depleted Virginia’s roster numbers and sparked in Huckaby the idea of Jones’s early enrollment.
For the past week, Jones has been practicing with the team and attending classes. He’s taking four courses (12 credit hours) this semester: a nutrition class, a familial studies class, a music art class and a class designed to acclimate new students to college. There’s a lot of writing in that class, said Jones, who hasn’t picked a major yet.
“I like it here,” Jones said. “The teachers here are pretty nice compared to my Fishburne teachers. … They work with you. And I love the coaching staff, obviously.”
Jones, a 6-foot-1 point guard, is a member of the scout team, which required him to show up early to practice Tuesday to learn from assistant Ritchie McKay how to simulate Boston College’s plays. And after practice, he spent a half hour working with McKay on his shot.
“It’s not like I’m coming in and they treat me like a freshman, like, ‘You go do this or you go do that,’” Jones said. “I’m part of the team.”
Among the many benefits of Jones’s early enrollment to both him and the team is that this extra practice time will allow him to learn Virginia’s offensive and defensive schemes.
“I’ve been able to digest a little bit of it,” Jones said. “The offensive side of it, there’s a lot of plays I’ve got to learn. Sometime this week I’ll probably stay after practice with [director of basketball operations Brad] Soucie and go over plays and stuff so I can understand it, so by next year I’ll be on it.”
Jones said Huckaby employs the pack-line defense at Fishburne, so he already feels relatively comfortable in that system.
“It’s just that our guys weren’t as quick as this,” Jones said.
In practice, Jones often matches up against junior guard Jontel Evans, who is known for his speed.
“Going against Jontel, that’s a big thing,” Jones said. “Basically, me being a quick guard and him having to guard quick guards, I definitely help the defense a lot. And then guarding Jontel, who is basically one of the quickest guards in the ACC, I know I’ll definitely get an advantage with that. I’m just here to help them out right now.”
And he is, in more ways than one. In addition to providing the Cavaliers another scholarship body that is available for practice purposes in the coming months, Jones’s presence also allows the coaching staff to better gage his talents. That will help inform the coaches what they still need – and don’t need – out of the 2013 recruiting class.
Socially, Jones said, the acclimation process to the college setting “really wasn’t a big deal.” He’d already spent a semester away from his native Kannapolis, N.C., and again, he was at a post-graduate military school, not a high school. It’s not like he’ll be missing out on prom as a result of his decision to enroll at Virginia a semester early.
On the drive from Richmond to Charlottesville on Jan. 15, Jones said his uncle mentioned searching the Internet and seeing all the talk “about how you’re the first person to do something like this.”
It doesn’t seem to faze him much, though. He knows this choice eventually will allow him the opportunity to graduate from Virginia early. And he knows it will help speed up his basketball development, as well.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Jones said. “I mean, I never thought this would happen, but, hey, it happened, so … I mean, I don’t know what to say. It happened, and now I’ll get a head start. Especially with my recruiting class, I’m the point guard of this recruiting class so I’m going to have to be the leader. So getting a head start at this really helps me out.”