Having covered this team since about the time Verdell Jones actually committed to and signed with Indiana, I could fill probably 10,000 words talking about his evolution as a player. I would like to think I'm qualified to write at least 45 of such words.
But last night, during the waning minutes of what stands as a disappointing but probably not wholly unpredictable loss, I believe I saw something happen that's only once occurred before in the seven years I've been following or covering Indiana basketball.
I believe I saw and heard an IU player booed by his own fans.
Maybe I'm wrong, but it seemed like that's what was happening, as Jones checked back into the game. If that wasn't the case, if there was some other, more legitimate target at which these boos were aimed, then fine, I am wrong and I stand corrected.
But if in fact Indiana fans were booing a senior and four-year starter, in the midst of only the second scoreless game of his career, then I say without equivocation: Shame on you.
As a player, Jones came to Indiana with a laundry list of flaws and imperfections. An incredibly lean 6-foot-5, Jones has always seemed caught between point guard and shooter in this offense, between acting as Indiana's best ball-handler (he is, scoff though you might) and working to create his own shot off the dribble, something he's undeniably good at.
As he's grown in college, some of those imperfections have been eased out. Jones is undeniably much stronger now, and his diminished scoring totals suggest he's willingly accepted a more specifically defined role with the growth in talent around him.
There are still serious flaws in his game. For one — and I'm by no means the first person to mention this — he plays with his head down far too often, and particularly with the ball in his hands. For one of Indiana's primary point guard-type players (Tom Crean likes to say his team has roles, not positions), that's an unacceptable weakness.
Jones also still makes questionable decisions with the ball, both in shooting and passing, though as time has passed, he's improved in both of those particular decision-making capacities.
Overall, Verdell Jones was asked to do a rather thankless job — he was asked to be the face of the last three years. Too often, at least from where I sit, he's drawn as much criticism for the way Indiana has struggled as for the way he has. He's been made everything from a posterchild to a scapegoat for 28 wins in three years, for the problems on the road, for the failure late in games. Did he have his hand in these various disappointments? Sometimes, you bet. But he has, in this writer's opinion, taken far more criticism than was earned during his career.
As Alex Bozich pointed out in a post today on Inside The Hall, it was Jones who scored crucial points and hit crucial free throws during the Ohio State win. It was Jones who subtlety but rather brilliantly set up Christian Watford's game-winning shot against Kentucky (he went the exact right way, with the ball in his hands, every step down the court). It was Jones whose late-game jumper put Michigan away, though admittedly, it was also Jones who missed importantly from the free-throw line late in that game.
And so we return to Thursday night, to the only scoreless game in Jones' career that didn't involve him losing consciousness (Cornell, freshman year). Cody Zeller has had some tough games this year. Jordan Hulls too. Victor Oladipo hasn't always been at his best. Why, then, are those players more entitled to a pass than Jones?
Yes, his career has offered its share of frustrations. Some of them were made of his hand. Some were not.
Many were simply the product of Indiana basketball being stuck between is glittering past and its uncertain future, building a tumultuous present that was too much for underexperienced, underdeveloped players to handle.
They're handling it now. Indiana is 15-2, and should still be in the top 15 on Monday, win or lose in Columbus this weekend.
Whether you like it or not, Verdell Jones has been a massive part of that renaissance, both during the years that were as lean as he was, or during this rather whirlwind turnaround. He's become one of this team's leaders, to good effect. Watch him interact with teammates his next time out. You'll see it.
And whatever your personal opinion might be, you absolutely will not convince me that booing him is anything other than distasteful, shameful and rude. He didn't commit a crime, at least not that I know of. He's never been delinquent to society or somehow destructive to anything more than the flow of a basketball game.
If you're going to boo him, if you're going to make that kind of embarrassing spectacle of yourself, then have the courage to do it in person. He was on the Assembly Hall court, headphones on, shooting jumpers and free throws until after midnight. I'm sure you could have found him there if you wanted.
When Sean Kline was booed during his senior season, it was no less ridiculous and unjustifiable. When asked about it, Kline famously said he didn't care, though his verbage and syntax were rather colorful. If Jones said or felt something similar, I wouldn't begrudge him at all.
Already have an account? Sign In