If the way he’s been playing in the Holiday Invitational is a good indication, Duke signee Matt Jones is much more of a steadying force than a showman.
Jones scored 18 points including a 3-pointer with 9-of-10 free-throw shooting, chipped in five rebounds and four assists to lead his DeSoto (Texas) team to a 46-34 win over Hampton (Va.) Friday night.
That victory, DeSoto’s second straight over a defending state champion, put the Eagles into the Summit Hospitality bracket title game against Metuchen (N.J.) St. Joseph’s.
Jones was solid at the free-throw line when it counted, knocking down both ends of a one-and-one and then a pair of two-shot opportunities in the last 54 seconds for the final six points of the game.
“I just had to get mentally tough to become a good free-throw shooter,” Jones said. “Being a senior I have to show my teammates they can trust me to knock them down.”
Jones, whose first contact with a college head coach was from Notre Dame mentor (and former Duke assistant) Mike Brey during his sophomore year, considered 13 big-time offers before narrowing the field to Duke along with UNC, Florida, Kansas and Texas.
“Every time I got an offer I sat down and saw how I could fit into the system,” Jones said. “I knew Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) is one of the greatest coaches ever to coach the game. I definitely wanted to get good coaching and a good college education, so picking Duke was a no-brainer for me. When you graduate from Duke, you’re ready to succeed in life.
“Coach K and ‘Coach D’ (DeSoto mentor Chris Dyer) both teach great defense, both really want to win, and they’re true competitors. They’re some of the greatest competitors you’re ever going to see.”
Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski was at jam-packed Holiday Gym to watch the action Friday night.
“The coaches at Duke are so cool,” Jones said. “Our relationship is great, and I’m definitely excited to come down here. It’s great to be in North Carolina, get a glimpse and just to feel the love that the Duke fans have given me.
“This is really (DeSoto’s) first national tournament. I’m just trying to embrace it and soak everything in. It’s starting to hit me a little bit that I’m going to be so far from home, but I’ll get through it.”
When Jones signed, a Duke press release quoted Krzyzewski as saying he and fellow signee Semi Ojeleye were both “very good shooters and skilled players that will fit into the Duke system and culture very well,” adding that “They have bright futures in our program, and we look forward to watching them develop on and off the court.”
Jones said he has already bonded with the current Duke players.
“Sheed (current freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon) was in my ear the whole time,” Jones said of the recruiting process. “Being from Texas, we definitely look out for each other.”
At 6-4, Jones is the Eagles’ regular point guard. He’s projected as a shooting guard at Duke, with every major ranking him putting him in the Top 10 of next year’s entering class at that position.
“When Matt was with us as a freshman he was our four-man, and then as a sophomore and a junior he was a wing player,” Dyer said. “We had a need for a point guard and tall point guards – especially at the high school level – are at a premium.
“Hopefully our kids all know that if they don’t play on the other end of the floor they don’t play. Matt and I have had a few religious moments in his career about playing defense.”
Jones said his favorite pro is LeBron James – who of course played for Krzyzewski on this year’s gold-medal U.S. Olympic team in London – and his Duke role model is sharpshooter J.J. Redick.
“I’m not trying to be cliché, but he was so dominant,” Jones said of Redick. “The way he worked and the things he was able to do on and off the court made him special.”
And Jones said he’s also conscious of his own work ethic.
“I’m definitely going to keep working on all those positions, so that whatever (Krzyzewski) wants me to do at Duke I’ll be ready to do it,” he said. “I know there’s going to be a lot more physicality in college. I have a lot to improve on but I’ll get it done. No doubt.”