Second-ranked rebounder credits his team, coaches

Toby Uecker

Toby Uecker

In signing on with SDSU, freshman Matt Jones knew that he would be getting a good deal of playing time even in his first year. However, few could have predicted that Jones would be playing such a key role in the Jacks’ 12-1 drive through the North Central Conference this season.

That key role, said head coach Scott Nagy, includes being the teams best rebounder as well as a strong shooter. Jones is currently number two in the North Central Conference in total rebounds, with 173 on the season. He also has the best field goal percentage in the NCC, shooting 66 percent.

Those figures are impressive for any player but especially so for freshman, as the playing time granted a young player like Jones is often less than that a veteran would get. However, Jones is currently averaging over 25 minutes per game.

“Normally, a freshman doesn’t get that opportunity,” Nagy said. “But Matt did, and he’s made good on it.”

One of the major reasons Jones is getting that playing time is the injury to Josh Cerveny earlier in the season. This meant that Jones was put into the mix to fill the gap left by Cerveny. If the season statistics are any indication, the gap seems to be adequately filled.

Nagy is pleased with the way things have worked out having Jones step up.

“I don’t know if we would have been able to realize how good he is this year,” he said.

That isn’t to say that everything building up to Jones’ and the team’s success has been easy. As is the case with any new player, Jones has had to work to get into the rhythm of college competition for SDSU.

“The biggest thing is to get to know that each player has his own flair,” Jones said. “But we’ve still got to get on the same page in order to put it all together.”

According to Nagy, this recognition is especially important on the defensive side of the game. He says this is typically the toughest thing for an incoming player to learn and can often take more than a year.

Fortunately for the Jacks, Jones has a good quality going for him in this learning environment.

“He’s very smart,” Nagy said. “It doesn’t take him long to pick things up.”

Jones credits his quick learning to those around him at SDSU.

“My teammates and coaches have helped so much,” he said.

Veteran Andy Cone has been able to be of particular help to Jones, as Cone has been with the team five years, Nagy said. This experience means he knows the style of the team as well as the finer points of Jones’ position, so he can help the younger player grow into his role with the team.

The help experienced players are giving Jones is a good sign that he has meshed well into the SDSU dynamic, Nagy said. Often, young players with such large amounts of publicity can create jealousy among those with more time on the court.

However, Nagy hasn’t seen this in Jone” case.

“Matt is just so down-to-earth,” Nagy said. “He doesn’t really care about the notoriety he has. I think the players understand that, and they like him a lot. I don’t think there’s any jealousy.”

One more thing helps the others accept Jones, Nagy said: “The players also know that we need him to win.”

Nagy expects that the team will find Jones even more of a necessity as he moves up through his years with the team. As he adapts even more to the college basketball environment, Jones will be able to grow, both mentally and physically, in his game. “It’s a process,” Nagy said.

As Jones goes through this evolution, he hopes to serve as a guide to the younger players that come to refresh the team. Building on his own experiences, he knows exactly what he will tell those who follow him into the Jackrabbits basketball program.

“You’ve just got to be confident in your ability,” he said. “If you have that, you can do pretty much anything.”