Kinney: Chris Jones does it all for Teaneck
We can try to break down Chris Jones' game to its tiniest of details in an effort to reveal his most underrated asset or perhaps even unearth a hidden Achilles heel. But why waste time when it is fairly evident that Teaneck's 6-5 senior guard basically does three things very well on the basketball court?
He does the big things, like knock down clutch shots and draw the Teaneck crowd into the excitement with his dunking ability or the occasional 3-point shot.
He does the little things, like seal off a man properly for a defensive rebound or set a screen to free up a hot-handed teammate.
And Jones also does the most important thing of all.
He wins. A lot.
When Jones leads top-seeded and undefeated Teaneck into the Bergen County Jamboree final Thursday night at Ramapo College against second-seeded Don Bosco Prep, his Highwaymen will be seeking not only their second straight county title, but also their 54th victory in the last 55 games.
That's a sign of stability and consistency that nears St. Anthony territory (57 straight wins) and it is a great reflection on the steady, reliable play of Jones himself.
"He's just a winner and there's something to be said for winning," Teaneck head coach Jerome Smart said. Smart had coached numerous stars at Paterson Catholic before taking the reins for the Highwaymen when that Passaic County school closed in June 2010. "The only kids who can boast that kind of record he has are the St. Anthony kids."
Teaneck (25-0) had dropped its first two games of the 2010-11 season, then reeled off 28 straight wins before falling to Plainfield, 62-60, in the NJSIAA Group 3 semifinals. Plainfield went on to win Group 3 and fell to St. Anthony in the Tournament of Champions final, while Teaneck licked its wounds and got back to work for the next season under the leadership of Jones.
"When he wasn't on the AAU circuit last summer (Jones is on the Playaz), he was always there in the 90, 95-degree heat of the gym, working on his skills, his conditioning and working harder than anybody," Smart said. "And that example is what's helped us so much this year.
"The other kids see the consistency he brings game after game and practice after practice and all they can do is try to follow him. Chris goes out every day and does the kinds of things I've been preaching about since the beginning of last summer."
All that grunt work that Jones has never been afraid to perform has certainly helped shape some attractive basketball skills through the years. He can handle the ball on the open floor and in tight spaces, is superb passer and has one of the cleanest jump shots in New Jersey. And that's not to mention Jones' outstanding athletic ability.
Jones enters this game with a 21.4-point average, though even people who have watched him play several times this season might be surprised by such a high number. He almost never takes bad shots and, truth be told, doesn't take many shots, period, unless absolutely necessary.
"He's actually the most efficient player I've ever been around," Smart said. "His efficiency on offense is what stands out the most.
"There have been times I've gone home and my wife has said, 'Chris didn't have a very good game tonight, did he?' I'd say, 'He didn't? He scored 22 points.' But, you know, he might have scored 22 points and only taken 13, 14 shots. I think he's taken 20 shots only twice all season."
Jones has spoken continually about his goal to put the team's best interests before his own. And, yes, a lot of talented kids are programmed to say those types of things, but he will say so after having backed it up with gritty, selfless play.
Against Tenafly last Sunday in the Jamboree semifinal, for instance, Jones attempted only 11 shots, making eight (two were 3-pointers) and hitting 1 of 2 from the line for 19 points. He also had six rebounds and five steals.
"We have other guys who score. Some nights Joel (Hernandez) might be shooting great or Shaak (Shaakir Lindsey) might be hot, and we won't really need Chris to score at those times," Smart said. "But the great thing is that when those other guys aren't scoring, we know we can rely on Chris to come through.
"He's the run stopper," Smart said. "If (the opposition) scores six in a row, we can call something for Chris and he'll either score or find some way to get to the foul line and score. He'll stop the clock, give us a break and we won't have to burn a timeout."
Jones played the same smart, strong, efficient game last season, but somehow did not attract the level of Division 1 colleges he had hoped would call. A slew of mid-majors have made offers--such as Manhattan, Hofstra, Towson, Siena, Rhode Island, LaSalle--but none of the majors has placed down a firm offer yet.
However, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Colorado, Clemson, Seton Hall, UConn and Nebraska have all expressed interest of late and Smart something substantive is brewing.
"He's getting lot of attention now. A few schools are very close to offering at that level," Smart said. "In the next couple of days I could see could see an offer or two coming through."
Jones won't be preoccupied by that promise, though. He said after the Tenafly game that he was on a mission to win another Jamboree crown and then prepare his team for a state tournament run that comes out a couple games better than last year.
He's going to do that with his fullest concentration, his best intentions and, bet the house on this one, he's going to go about that business quite efficiently.
Mike Kinney covers boys basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS