A year ago, Gregg Jones was, literally and figuratively, the big man on campus. As a senior at Westlake High School, Jones was the leading scorer and rebounder on a Wolverines team that dominated play in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference. At 6 feet 8 inches, there was little doubt he was the most recognizable athlete in the league.
Things now are quite different.
Jones is a "Knob." That's the nickname given to freshmen at the Citadel, where Jones is a student and a reserve on the Bulldogs' struggling young basketball team that is off to a 3-8 start.
"That first week [at the Citadel], Hell Week, was the worst week of my life," Jones said. "But now I've grown used to it. The freshmen on the team, we laugh about all the stuff that happens all the time now."
And there are plenty of stories to share--and plenty of freshmen to tell them to. The Bulldogs have seven freshmen, not to mention six sophomores and a junior on the roster. The stories they share are common among first-year students at military academies: being awakened in the middle of the night for marching drills, having to ask permission to eat (and being forced to eat meals seated on the front three inches of a chair), and having to wait in line behind the seniors, junior and sophomores to do everything.
Jones doesn't hesitate to say he misses his family and calls them three or four times a week. But he misses something else more.
"There's nothing like a home-cooked meal," Jones said. "That'll be the best thing about getting home for Christmas."
Jones wasn't scheduled to get home until late Friday night, after flying back from Hawaii, where the Citadel played in the Pearl Harbor Classic. He has to be back soon--the Bulldogs play Monday at Florida State.
But things aren't all bad for Jones at the Citadel. As athletes, Jones and the rest of the team's freshmen had to eat downstairs and follow the freshman rules only for Hell Week. The rest of the time they have "season orders" to eat upstairs and forgo the stringent formalities. Basketball practice also gets the players out of parade and drill practice with the rest of the school's cadets two days a week.
Don't think for a minute, however, that Jones is getting a break. He has worked hard in the weight room since last summer to add 15 pounds of muscle, increasing his weight to 205 pounds. His coaches have set a goal of 215 to 220 pounds by the end of this summer's workouts.
"I could tell he was already putting on weight when I saw him in October," said Westlake Coach Jimmy Ball, who gets progress reports from Jones's younger brother, Charlie, a sophomore on the Wolverines' junior varsity team. "I was thinking if he was able to adjust to life at the Citadel that he'd do very well playing basketball there, too. And he has.
"I guess he's put his mind to it. The one thing he needed to work on was being aggressive, and that is a very aggressive place. He's handled it well, shown a maturity level that's helped him achieve there."
Jones has played in all 11 of the Bulldogs' games, starting twice. Through 10 games, he was second on the team in blocked shots (11) and tied for second in rebounds (43) despite averaging less than 15 minutes per game. Jones, who is averaging 4.4 points per game, is shooting a team-high 55 percent from the field.
The changes he has made in the past six months, however, are more about personality than basketball.
"Just being out on my own, I think I've grown up a lot," Jones said. "It's a big step between high school and college, and you learn that even quicker than normal at the Citadel."