When an athlete transfers to a new school, he might ask around to find out how successful the team has been or what the coach is like. But neither of those inquiries was the one nagging Potomac guard Anthony Jones last school year. His question was: Is it too late to move back to Arlington?
Jones asked that after he took part in his first pickup game in open gym. Dipping his toe into a Potomac program that at the time had reached the Virginia AAA state championship three of the previous four years, Jones was intimidated not only by the school's basketball reputation but by the returning players partially responsible for that reputation.
"I told my mom I wanted to move back because I didn't think I was going to make [the team]," recalled Jones, now a senior, after scoring 15 points Wednesday night in an 80-51 win over Stonewall Jackson.
With an encouraging word from Coach Kendall Hayes and a personal interest from Sherman Rivers, a senior at the time and the school's eventual all-time leading scorer, Yorktown transfer Jones tried out for the team and eventually became a valuable contributor, totaling 29 points in three Cardinal District tournament games.
This season Jones is an even more vital, yet often overshadowed, Panther component. Most Cardinal followers recognize senior forward Jernavis Draughn as perhaps the top player in the league, know senior forward Cameron Kirby is a relentless rebounder and are aware that junior Mark Cunningham is one of the streakiest three-point shooters around. But the 5-foot-11 Jones, averaging 10.6 points, is probably on the court as much as or more than any of the better-known Panthers.
"We went down the list of all the teams we've played this year, and Anthony's covering 'the man' on each team, almost regardless of what size the kid is," Hayes said. "He's somebody we couldn't do without right now."
Jones is one of the more disruptive defenders in the league, and the Panthers often feed off his tireless harassment. He might not always make the steal, but he's likely the player who causes the errant pass.
But the hyperactive feet that are so valuable on defense can be a hindrance sometimes on offense.
"He gets going a little too fast sometimes, and that's great if it's the open floor, but if it's a 4-on-3 situation, going too fast can hurt you a lot of times," Hayes said. "He's doing a better job of reading the situations as they're presented to him. A lot of times 75 percent [of speed] is better than 100 percent, and he's starting to understand that."
In a little more than a year's time, Jones has evolved from an intimidated Panther hopeful into a leader who does not hesitate to point out the deficiencies of teammates. The other seniors--Draughn, Kirby and reserve Andre Sims--are not the types to deliver a locker room speech.
"I'm the talkative one," Jones said with a smile. "In practice, if I see somebody not hustling or not doing as much as I know they can do, I get on them and let them know they're not going to play because that's how Coach Hayes is.
"They get mad, but they go ahead and do it because they know that's what they have to do. They're still my friend tomorrow."
CAPTION: Potomac's Anthony Jones evades Woodbridge's John Bryant during a game earlier this season.