Sophomore Maleke Jones (Charles Town, W.V./Washington) has come a long way since his freshman year. Unlike some point guards who are simply role players, Jones has proven to be a key factor to the success of the men’s basketball team this year.
In the men’s one-point win against Shenandoah Feb. 3, Jones showed just how clutch he is when he drew the foul and hit the game-winning free throw. Three days later against Randolph-Macon, he broke a 65-65 tie with four straight points in the final minute to propel Eastern Mennonite to a 73-71 win. For his efforts, he was named the Royals Athlete of the Week.
“My expectation is that he’ll be first team all-league because there’s no reason for him not to be,” said Coach Kirby Dean.
Jones was never the go-to player for his high school team. Dean recalls that when he was recruiting Jones in high school, he was the fourth option behind his twin brother Jerome Jones (Charles Town, W.V./Washington).
Jones says his role is much different than what was expected of him last year.
“My role now is facilitating the score whenever I can,” said Jones, who is a captain. “Everyone always comes to me with questions and I like it. I was vocal last year but this year I don’t have an option but to be, so I’m way more vocal.”
He is averaging 10.1 points, 2.9 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. He is also one of the best three-point shooters in the ODAC at 47.4%.
“Personally I thought I couldn’t really shoot last year,” Jones admitted. “So all summer I worked on ball handling and shooting. Now I’m shooting close to 50 percent from three so that really improved and I have more control over the ball this year. Defensively, Coach said I’m one of the top on-ball defenders so I think that improved, too. But I always want to get better at defense and getting other people involved. I don’t like feeling too selfish on the court but apparently I need to be that way for us to win.”
Maleke did not come up with this conclusion. His coaches did.
“To me he’s the most important player,” Dean said. “We do efficiency ratings on our kids based on criteria established by the NBA where we plug in all of their stats and it produces a number that says how efficient they are. He’s been our most efficient player all year long. That’s a nice way of saying he’s probably our most important or most valuable player. He kind of needs to grow into that role because he’s never been that guy. But Maleke is coming into his own and he needs to continue to do that because he is really talented. He can’t just settle for being a good player; he has to be the player of the year in our league next year. In my opinion, he has that kind of talent.”