Tre Jones: What he learned from Coach K, looking ahead to NBA

dukeI wasn’t sold on Tre Jones this time last year, and not just because he was a liability on the offensive end.

I thought he was a bit overhyped as a defender, made to look better because he had NBA talents around him, allowing him to freelance more, pile up counting numbers.

What he did to Kihei Clark in Duke’s 52-50 loss to Virginia on Feb. 29 made me a believer in his defensive prowess.

It wasn’t so much that he shut down Clark, though he did – Clark was 2-for-9 from the field with five assists and four turnovers.

It was how he did it. Jones decided that Clark wasn’t going to even touch the ball down the stretch, and, poof, he didn’t, and Virginia was forced to run its offense through Braxton Key, Tomas Woldetensae and Casey Morsell.

How Duke didn’t win that game, I’ll never know.

Anyway, Jones is a lockdown defender, and a much better offensive player. The sophomore, who has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft, improved his scoring (from 9.4 ppg to 16.2 ppg this season), his outside shooting (26.2% from three last year, 36.1% this year), and without those NBA talents surrounding him, he upped his playmaking (5.3 assists a game a year ago, 6.4 assists a game this season).

He may not be the most sought-after talent on the roster – that honor goes to 6’10” freshman center Vernon Carey Jr., who looks to have come out of the womb ready to dominate at the next level – but he was the best and most important player on his team this year.

There had been talk about him joining Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish in last year’s draft. He returned to work on his shooting, and his leadership, a key quality for an aspiring NBA point guard.

“I feel like being a vocal leader is something that I grew a lot in this year, just trying to talk more whether it’s in the locker room, on the court, practice, games – whatever it was, just trying to talk more, be more of a vocal leader,” Jones told reporters on a Friday conference call.

“I had to just let my actions do the leadership. I feel like a lot of different aspects in my game grew this year. I feel like I was able to show that I can shoot the ball much better than I did last year. I think that was one of the biggest things that I improved on this year.”

The biggest takeaway from his two years playing, and learning, from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski: competitive fire.

“I don’t think there’s really one story that I could take from the two years with him. I think it’s just how competitive he was, how he wanted to get better every single day. He never took any days off. He spent so much time around the game and he shows how much he dedicated and how much it pays off by being that dedicated and that bought in to the game of basketball,” Jones said.

“My takeaway is just completely being all in on whatever you’re doing because at the age he’s at and what he’s accomplished there and just in the basketball world, he could easily come in every day, be relaxed, not care as much anymore, but he seemed to have more fire every single day and more fire in year two than he even did in my first year. I think that was my biggest takeaway.”

Like other athletes in the here and now, Jones is having to adjust on the fly to patch together a training regimen.

“It’s kind of weird right now,” he said, speaking for us all. “I think just trying to stay in shape, trying to continue to do the things from home that I can do. I’m staying with my brother (Tyus) right now, so I get to work out with him as much as we can, and do as much from home that we can.

“I’m trying to just stay ready whenever the moment comes that we do get to work out for teams or whatever it is. No one really knows yet, but I’m just trying to stay ready so when we do get over this as a country and as a world, I’m trying to not take any steps back and keep taking steps forward in this process.”

Story by Chris Graham

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