Men's basketball: Jones finds footing again in UNT attack

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David Minton/DRC
North Texas junior guard Chris Jones, center, defends as Incarnate Word guard Mitchell Badillo dribbles the ball Nov. 26 at the Super Pit.

Chris Jones can remember the popping sound that came from his right foot as he dove after a loose ball on the floor at E.A. Diddle Arena more than a year ago.

At the time, Jones thought he needed a new tape job.

North Texas’ starting point guard found out later he needed a lot more than some tape. He needed time — nearly half a season’s worth — to recover after breaking a bone in his foot.

And that was just for starters.

Jones also needed time to overcome the depression he sunk into and rediscover the form he showed early in his career, when he emerged as one of UNT’s most valuable players.

The former Garland Lakeview Centennial standout says he is closer than ever to completing that process heading into a game against UAB (12-5, 1-2 Conference USA) tonight at the Super Pit, the opener in a key two-game homestand for the Mean Green (10-8, 1-3).

“I am starting to get back to form,” Jones said. “I catch myself thinking about the future, which messes me up. I am trying to get away from that and am starting to play better because I am not thinking so much.”

Jones has had plenty to think about during a career at UNT that has taken more than its share of twists and turns. The junior missed the second half of his freshman season because he was academically ineligible and played in just 16 games as a sophomore because of his broken foot.

Add in a game Jones missed this year against Central Arkansas, and he has played in just 52 games in more than 2 1/2 seasons.

A look at Jones’ career stats in that limited time shows just how big an impact he can make when he is healthy and has the ball in his hands.

Jones has 220 career assists — just 14 short of cracking the top 10 in school history. That isn’t a long road for Jones to travel, not with the way he has been playing lately.

Jones had 13 assists in the Mean Green’s last two games combined, including a season-high eight in a win over Marshall.

“It has been great to have him back,” UNT coach Tony Benford said. “This is the first time he has played in the second semester in his career. He gives us stability.”

He also gives UNT what Benford says is a better lineup. UNT often had to move leading scorer Alzee Williams to the point guard spot when Jones was unavailable.

Williams has been able to play off the ball more with Jones in the lineup and leads the team with an average of 12.3 points per game.

“It has helped us a lot to have Chris back,” Williams said. “He gives us energy. The whole team feeds off him. He gets everyone involved.”

No one has been happier about being on the floor this season than Jones, who has missed more time in his career than he ever anticipated.

Jones spent a lot of time working out in a pool while recovering from his broken foot. He was around the team but missed contributing on the floor.

“It was tough to sit out the last half of the year, especially after having to sit out the last half of my freshman season,” Jones said. “I took it hard and got depressed at times.”

Jones also has had to deal with playing for a new coaching staff the last two seasons. He averaged 14.1 points per game in the semester he played his freshman year under former UNT head coach Johnny Jones, who left for LSU after the season.

Benford has asked Chris Jones to be more of a quarterback for his team and distribute the ball to the scorers around him.

Jones spent a lot of time thinking about his foot and his role. He wasn’t completely comfortable with either until recently.

UNT will need Jones to be at his best tonight. UAB has beaten North Carolina and Rutgers this season. Junior guard Chad Frazier is averaging 17.4 points per game to lead three UAB players scoring in double figures.

UAB ranks fourth nationally in rebounding margin at plus-11.0.

“They are big and strong and attack the glass,” Benford said. “We have to take that to another level while rebounding. We also have to keep them out of transition.”

UNT will be without senior guard Brandan Walton, who is out with a concussion he suffered in practice this week.

UNT feels better about its chances to knock off the Blazers despite those challenges now that Jones is back from his broken foot.

Jones suffered a dancer’s fracture — a break of the fifth metatarsal, the bone that runs from the midfoot to the base of the small toe.

Jones needed several weeks to recover and returned in time to play three games at the end of last season after missing nearly two months. He needed even longer to feel completely comfortable on the court again.

More than a year has passed since that ill-fated dive on the floor at Western Kentucky. That time has Jones feeling like he is ready to dance again.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.


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