A year after he considered jumping into professional basketball straight out of Springarn High School, University of District of Columbia 7-foot freshman Earl Jones said yesterday he is now certain he made the right decision by going to college.
Jones also said he definitely plans to return to UDC next year, mainly because he feels his pro value will increase with more collegiate seasoning.
The NBA scouts aren't beating down the door trying to convince Jones, 19, to go hardship in the draft next month. But he said he wouldn't leave school now unless he was offered an outrageous sum of money.
"There are a few parts of my game that I need to work on to be a good pro, like putting on some weight, defense," Jones said. "I know I can shoot but there are other things you have to do out there. Another year or two in college will help me a lot."
However, Jones, who finished as the nation's top Division II rebounder with a 13.3 average, says he had as good a year as any other center in the country and has no reservations about his ability to play pro basketball.
Jones shook up the collegiate ranks a year ago when he announced he would attend Division II UDC rather than go the junior-college route for a year before choosing one of the hundreds of major colleges seeking his services. Jones didn't have the necessary 2.0 grade-point average to be eligible for a Division I scholarship.
Jones addressed criticism that he didn't put out 100 percent and appeared lackadaisical and disinterested at times during the season. Considered by many the best big man to come out of high school a year ago, Jones was expected to dominate play and take UDC to heights it had never reached. He didn't. At times, his play left questions about his overall skills and enthusiasm.
"Just because I wasn't scoring 30 and 40 points a game, people thought I wasn't hustling or putting out," said Jones."That wasn't true. I hustled every game. I know I was being criticized by the papers and by other people but it didn't bother me. I just went out and tried to play the best I could.
Personal achievements have never been high on Jones' list of priorities. He insists he has no personal goals for next year except to lead UDC to a berth in the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Still, Jones had some impressive statistics. He played 862 minutes in 25 of his team's 26 games, shot 50 percent from the field and 71 percent from the line for a 20.0 scoring average, had 65 assists and 44 steals. He led Division II in rebounding, blocked 146 shots and was selected as the ECAC Division II rookie of the year.
UDC Coach Wil Jones had no complaints:
"Find me a center who averaged 20 points, 13.3 rebounds and blocked that many shots," Jones said. "You can't. I don't know what you have to do to be all-America but I have two players who surely deserve to be -- Earl and Mike Britt.
"There aren't many around on one team who are better than those two. People talked about Earl not doing this or doing that but he did fine, had an excellent year. He's a team player and likes to win. He doesn't mind sacrificing. Scoring a lot of points doesn't mean anything to him if he isn't winning. I'll take him every day."
Earl Jones admitted he had difficulty adjusting to the college game early in the season.
"I went through a period of getting used to my teammates early in the year and I had a few problems," he said. "I saw a lot of double teams and defenses where I couldn't get the ball. I was learning the guys and it looked like I wasn't trying. Because of that, we lost a few games early we shouldn't have lost. By the middle of the year, we began to get things together and you saw what happened, we started winning. I wasn't going to the boards as tough as I could have and I got more aggressive. I love blocking shots so I concentrated on doing that, too."
Jones said he was not bothered by published reports early in the season that he was not ready to play in the NBA. Still, just after the Christmas break, he began playing with more intensity. As a result, the Firebirds won 13 straight before losing to Coppin State, 27-26. UDC finished its season with 14 victories in its final 15 games but was not awarded a post-season playoff bid.
"No way we should have been left out," Earl Jones said. "We played very well at the end and our record was just as good as a couple of those teams who got picked. But that's okay, it's over now. We'll be back next year and we'll be a much better team. I'll be back, P-Bird (Britt) is back and we have a couple of good players coming in, like Kenny Payne (all-Met guard transferred from Rutgers.) Plus, our gym is supposed to be ready on the Van Ness campus and we won't have to play so many games on the road.
"I know I can shoot so I will work on defense, rebounding and passing," Jones said. "I also committed, or should I say, I was called for, a lot of fouls. And when you get in foul trouble, you have to play a different style. I got a bit discouraged at times."
Jones is certain he will silence his citics next season.
"I could have that spectacular game if I went out and hogged the ball and shot everything," he said. "But that isn't me. I like to pass, I want to be the best passer around. I plan to play the best I can and help UDC win next yearl. That what's matters most to me."