DURHAM — There is one member of the Duke lacrosse team who caught Mike Krzyzewski’s eye because of his skills on the hardwood – to the point that the two had a phone conversation about him possibly suiting up for the basketball team after his lacrosse eligibility is done.
It’s not hard to pick out the player Krzyzewski liked. Take a quick scan across the field, and 6-foot-4, 240-pound sophomore midfielder Myles Jones stands out, first for his size and then, on closer inspection, for his skills.
Jones, who hails from Long Island, N.Y., grew up playing football and basketball. He added lacrosse in the sixth grade, at the suggestion of a friend’s father.
“Funny story,” Jones says with a smile in the 90-degree heat: “I played basketball in the winter and the spring, and a friend of mine’s dad came up to me and said, ‘You’re going to play lacrosse.’ And I’m just like, ‘Who is lacrosse?’ I had no idea what lacrosse was.”
It didn’t take him long to figure it out, as three years (and about 6 inches) later, Jones was trying out for Long Island’s most elite high school squad, the Empire team.
Now, Jones, who earned All-ACC honors, is part of a midfield that has surprised and exceeded coach John Danowski’s expectations. Jones, fellow sophomore All-ACC middie Deemer Class and senior Christian Walsh make up the starting unit, and their play will be key as No. 1seed Duke (14-3) takes on Johns Hopkins (11-4) at noon Sunday in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. A win would send the Blue Devils to their eighth Final Four in Danowski’s eight-year tenure.
Jones describes his game as a mesh of football, basketball and lacrosse, the sports he played all four years in high school. He’ll run a version of a basketball pick-and-roll on offense. If he needs to break through an opponent’s check, he’ll summon some tough running that dates back to his football days when he was an all-county quarterback at Walt Whitman High, in Huntington Station, N.Y.
Jones always knew, though, that lacrosse was his favorite. He committed to Duke over Notre Dame and Virginia during his junior year, before he started gathering real interest from collegiate football teams (Syracuse offered a full scholarship to play football and lacrosse, but that wasn’t far enough away from home for Jones, who wanted to head south for college).
There was a time when Jones had a chance to consider a future in college basketball, during his postgraduate year at Connecticut’s Salisbury School. Richmond and Xavier offered, along with other mid-major programs. That’s when Krzyzewski called him, too.
“My coach told me that it would be a lot easier for me to get through my prep school year if I did other things,” Jones said. “I did play soccer; I played basketball; I had a great time playing basketball.”
Soccer? Yes, Jones said, despite the fact that he hadn’t played soccer since he was young, so young that the league was still co-ed. There were already too many post grads on the football team, so soccer it was.
“I used to run into little girls, and my parents would yank me off the field. That’s when I started playing football,” he added with a laugh.
That’s Jones, though, a physically gifted athlete with athleticism to spare. On the lacrosse field, he uses his height to his advantage: he can see above and beyond defenders (he recorded five assists in last week’s win over Air Force), and he has more room to get his hands free and whip off a shot. Jones’ game, one that thrives on power, is a perfect complement to his classmate Class’ game, which uses more finesse.
Class made history last weekend against Air Force when he became the first Duke midfielder to top the 60-point mark in a season. Jones isn’t far behind, with 50 points, 30 of them goals and the other 20 assists. When the two score, they have a celebration Class calls sprinkles –picture someone sprinkling fairy dust on another person.
Loose and fun-loving off the field (he has a pretty good Danowski impression), Jones has become more like that on it as well.
“Coming from high school to college, the biggest thing is just playing calm,” Jones said. “As a freshman, you don’t want to mess up, so you’re tense. I remember running around and I could have broken my (stick) shaft, that’s how tight I was gripping it during games. Now, the game is so much slower. When I run, I’m looking at the whole field, I can see everything.”
While he has already made the All-ACC team – a list that tends to be more exclusive than the All-America teams – Jones still hasn’t reached his ceiling at a lacrosse player. That’s due to his abundant athleticism, something Danowski saw early, at both his basketball and lacrosse games, even if he was a little raw in the latter, at a high school not known for producing high-major lacrosse players.
“As with anything else, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder,” Danowski said. “When I saw Myles, I said, ‘Absolutely. Why wouldn’t you want somebody like that in your program?’ ”
And about that offer to play basketball after his four years of lacrosse …
“Coach D and Coach K made a deal that he wouldn’t talk to me until after,” Jones said. “They’re holding up their end of the bargain.”