BOZICH | In the end, for Pitino, the Chris Jones roller-coaster not worth the ride
The blanks have not yet been filled in on Chris Jones' dismissal from the Louisville basketball program, but Jones was a recruiting gamble that Rick Pitino lost.
Sunday, February 22nd 2015, 8:53 pm EST by
Monday, February 23rd 2015, 7:50 am EST
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – What did Chris Jones do?
You're not the only one who wants to know the story behind the dismissal of Jones from the University of Louisville basketball team Sunday. The college basketball world is chasing answers, sifting through gossip and waiting for a story sourced with official information to emerge.
The swift coldness of the manner that coach Rick Pitino said goodbye to Jones Sunday afternoon is likely translate into nothing good for Jones, Pitino or U of L basketball when all the blanks are finally filled in.
Suspended on Tuesday. Missing from the Syracuse game Wednesday. Returned to good standing Thursday. A late-game hero against Miami Saturday.
Going, going, gone on Sunday.
That's a story that deserves more than a two-sentence, 21-word, e-mailed media release from the U of L basketball program. But that is the bare-boned context Louisville provided, leaving a news vacuum that ignited rousing Internet speculation.
Others – Kevin Ware, Chane Behanan –have left the program during the last two seasons. But not like this.
Not three weeks before Selection Sunday. Not the third-leading scorer from a team that has featured just four legitimate scorers since early November.
Not less than 24 hours after Jones made a jump shot that put the Cardinals ahead, 50-49, with about three minutes to play in a game Louisville eventually won, 55-53, against Miami in the KFC Yum! Center.
On Saturday, Jones was a hero, with media members standing three or four deep around his locker to record his post-game comments. He laughed. He answered every question about his untimely suspension.
He played 36 minutes, scored 17 points and scrambled for five rebounds, which is always an impressive number for a guard who is generously measured at 5-10.
Pitino was complimentary of Jones on Saturday. Jones said he was pleased that his suspension only lasted one game. He said he considered himself responsible for the game the Cardinals lost at Syracuse. Jones said he threw the remote control while watching the telecast of that game from his room in Minardi Hall. He said that he was convinced that Pitino “loved” him.
Now it's ended badly, the way some predicted it would end before Pitino and his assistant coaches recruited Jones from Northwest Florida College two years ago, when he was ranked the best junior college prospect in America.
Jones was a risk. That was no secret.
He grew up in Orange Mound, one of the most troubled neighborhoods in Memphis. He had issues with his temper as well as attending high school classes. One coach told me that Jones moved at least four or five times during his junior season at Melrose High School. His life was rarely easy.
Jones finished his high school career at Oak Ridge (N.C) Military Academy, but still needed two seasons in junior college before he was ready to play for a major-college program.
A string of schools wanted him. He cut his list to Baylor, Oklahoma State, Memphis, Florida State, Kansas and Louisville. The last three schools had the best chances to sign him.
People will tell you that Jones picked Louisville because Jones was a hard-headed guy who wanted to be coached hard by Pitino.
It worked – until it did not work over the last week.
Pitino will take his share of the responsibility for this jarring departure. He's the head coach, the guy who picks the roster and controls the scholarships. He should take the responsibility. It always starts with the coach.
Pitino worked with Jones, Behanan and Ware (who left on his own), giving all three of them multiple opportunities to overcome their mistakes. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it simply doesn't work.
But last week after Jones was suspended, I talked and texted with coaches from at least a half-dozen programs. Each lamented the off-the-court issues they have to work through with the current generation of players. Coaches everywhere are devoting more time coaching attitude and behavior.
One assistant coach at a Power Five conference program said this:
“My (head) coach's new thing is there is no such thing as a good kid. Just different levels of bad. LOL.”
Hyperbole? Sure. There are good kids in every program, including Louisville.
But the point is the knucklehead issue is everywhere. It's been front and center for Pitino for the last week. Tom Crean started the season shuffling guys through the suspension list at Indiana.
Google “Florida basketball player suspensions,” and you'll be surprised by how many guys Billy Donovan has been forced to punish this season.
Kevin Willard's locker room has imploded at Seton Hall. Frank Martin suspended two South Carolina players for the rest of the season last week. Oregon is on the list. So is Vanderbilt. Don't forget Notre Dame. Or Memphis. Illinois.
Wasn't Rasheed Suliamon the first guy Mike Krzyzewski kicked off the team at Duke in more than 30 seasons?
Yes, he was.
This week it's Pitino and Louisville dealing with the fallout of college basketball players behaving badly. It won't translate into anything good for the program when all of the blanks in the Chris Jones Story are finally filled in.
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