Here at BN, we've often talked about Ben Ball Warriors and the respect that comes from a basketball player "earning" his initials. Sure, it was a bit tongue-in-cheek at first, but it's become something of a mantra here at BN. Nestor and the other managers set the simple standard for earning that distinction here at BN: either win a conference title or stick with the program through your senior season. But the subjective requirement is a bit different: like Nestor's "eye test" for football, the real question is are these guys true Ben Ball Warriors in the mold of AA, LRMAM, etc.? Are they players who gave/give their all?
Let's be clear: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute didn't earn his initials just because his name is hard to type and spell.
Nikola Dragovic, despite finishing his senior year, never did because . . . well let's not go there.
So the editors and managers decided to give two players from this year's basketball team their initials. Both were the vocal leaders on the team last year, and while they are not Ben Ball Warriors in the traditional incredible hard nose defense sense (read: AA, LMR, LRMAM, AA2, RW, etc.), they are both players that fought through adversity to become team leaders, both in words and deeds.
So for the first time since MR, let's turn to the first player to earn his BN initials (we'll reveal the second player, which I'm sure you'll figure out beforehand, later this week).
Today, we will deal with the floor general, our starting point guard: Lazeric "Zeek" Jones. Or, as he's now known here at BN: LJ
LJ was overlooked in high school because he was a backup guard to some guy named Derrick Rose. Oh yes, that Derrick Rose: the NBA MVP point guard for the resurgent Chicago Bulls. In fact, only Division II schools were interested in LJ out of high school.
But LJ fought through the adversity and being overlooked. Let's break that down after the jump
Jones attended John A. Logan Junior College in Carterville (Ill.) after a good-but-not-great high school career at Chicago's Simeon Academy. Jones was buried behind some guy named Derrick Rose early in his career and flourished as an under-sized senior, averaging 14 points and six assists off the bench for the Wolverines, who went 60-6 in his last two seasons.
Jones received little attention from Division I schools out of high school, and even after a solid two-year junior-college career - his scoring average rose from 8.6 points per game as a freshman to 14.5 as a sophomore last season for the Volunteers - Jones only had offers from Nevada and UCLA before committing to the Bruins last January.
"He has a better appreciation for how it is at this level because he was riding around in a bus everywhere," UCLA head coach Ben Howland said. "Their big team meal was a McDonald's before they'd go play a game.". . .
"It's always something; it seems like every year, something gives me that jolt, puts that chip on my shoulder," Jones said. "Coming from where I have, going through the things I've gone through with basketball, there is that chip at all times. I'm really big on wanting to gain my respect.
"I want to earn it."
I don't think there is any shame in being a backup to Derrick Rose. While we give CBH and his staff a lot of grief for some recruiting missies they deserve a lot of credit for LJ. LJ only had two offers: UCLA and Nevada. Yet early on last year it was argued Jones was the team leader, in stories like the above how Jones was the "Catalyst for the Bruins". Jones was named a co-captain and became a leader. Even after one injury it was interesting looking back at the halfway point on the season what others were saying about LJ:
Newcomer of the Year: Lazeric Jones, UCLA. The junior-college transfer from Logan (Ill.) played his basketball during the Bruins' recent season-turning four-game winning streak, which shows how valuable he is to Ben Howland‘s team. Jones has helped rectify UCLA's suspect point-guard play after a void left by Darren Collison‘s departure after the 2008-09 season.
Beaver Coach Craig Robinson declared:
[H]ad Jones not been limited by a balky hand, he would be "one of the best point guards in this conference." Even with the injury, Robinson said, Jones "probably is."
But talent does not earn initials. Big plays and clutch play help. While Malcolm Lee was the best defender and changed games with his continuous defense effort arguably the single biggest defensive play of the season, was from LJ. I am talking about the play of the game in a very important win over USC.
Speaking of Lee, losing his defense is a big problem but his offense may partially replaced by a healthy Jones. Prior to injury Jones was a lock FT shooter and was a guy willing to take the big shot. Even after the first injury, at the midway point last year LJ ranked 3rd in PPG, 4th in FG%, 1st in FT%, and 3rd 3P% among Pac-10 point guards. Of course the negative sometimes proved the positive at that point in the season, in the frist three UCLA losses in Pac-10 play, Jones had failed to score a FG. In short, Jones was a key part of the Bruins success last year.
But of course, getting initials is not just about stats. LJ was a PG playing with injuries to both hands, who came back the same game he dislocated his finger, who played PG with a wrist wrapped, who rarely complained even as inevitably he would reinjure/aggravate the sprain, in fact, he was at some points,a PG who couldn't go left. Yet he never gave and up and he continued to contribute.
I really think we win the Pac-10 last year if LJ does not get hurt. Yet we still were able to finish second as LJ kept giving his all.
LJ was and is a Ben Ball Warrior who continues to work on his game.
Congratulations LJ, you earned your BN initials. We expect more good things from you this coming season.
Later this week, we'll bring you the second basketball player to earn those fabled BN initials. For now, fire away on your LJ thoughts.