By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The apartment that UVa basketball players Akil Mitchell and Thomas Rogers shared with James Johnson and KT Harrell near John Paul Jones Arena got a little lonely late last month.
That’s when Johnson and Harrell left the team and announced plans to transfer to other schools. But Mitchell and Rogers gained a roommate this month when Teven Jones enrolled at the University for the spring semester.
“Teven’s my play buddy now,” Mitchell, a sophomore forward, said with a smile after practice Tuesday night. “I get to hang out with Teven a lot, so I’m glad he’s here.”
A 5-11, 175-pound point guard from Kannapolis, N.C., Jones spent the fall semester in the postgraduate program at Fishburne Military Academy in Waynesboro. After learning that Johnson and Harrell had left UVa, Fishburne coach Ed Huckaby contacted the Cavaliers to see if they would be interested in adding Jones midyear.
Coach Tony Bennett had a scholarship available for this season, and University officials approved January enrollment for Jones, who had been a good student at A.L. Brown High in Kannapolis, about 25 miles from Charlotte, N.C.
After the holiday break, Jones had returned to Fishburne on Jan. 3, expecting to finish the school year there. A couple of days later, though, Huckaby “stopped me and said, ‘I need to talk to you,’ ” Jones recalled Monday. “And then he told me about the situation [at UVa].
“He asked me if I wanted to go. At first I was stuck, and then I was like, ‘Yeah, I’d have no problem with going.’ ” He wasn’t thrilled about leaving his Fishburne teammates and coaches at midseason, Jones said, “but coming here was a great opportunity for me.”
Jones, who turns 19 next month, moved into his apartment at UVa on Jan. 15. He practiced with his new team for the first time two days later, then started classes at UVa last Wednesday.
“It was a good experience,” Jones said, “because I’d never been in a class with 200, 250 people in it before. Stuff has just been moving pretty fast for me, and I’m just getting used to it.”
Mitchell said: “He’s actually really seemed to pick up on it well. He’s doing his homework at night and getting to class on time and all that stuff. I’m just trying to show him around. He’s picked up on it a lot faster than we did when we were freshmen.”
Jones, who averaged 22 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals as an A.L. Brown High senior, won’t play for Bennett’s team this season, but he’s allowed to practice with the Wahoos and to train with strength-and-conditioning coach Mike Curtis. He’ll have four seasons of eligibility, starting in 2012-13.
“This is definitely helping me, especially with learning the plays and the system and then getting to work with Coach Curtis,” Jones said. “I think I’ll have a head start on everybody else.”
In practice, Jones been used primarily on the scout team, usually alongside walk-ons, and the focus has been on game preparation. Given that, Bennett said Tuesday night, he hasn’t had time to fully evaluate Jones’ play.
“I think as time progresses we’ll get a better feel for him,” Bennett said. “But certainly he’s willing to do whatever. He’s quick, plays hard and appears to be pretty complete. But it’s just been limited to watch him because of how we’ve had games in front of the practices.”
Jones has no problems with his role. He put up dozens of jump shots Tuesday night in a post-practice session with associate head coach Ritchie McKay, and Jones says he’s already seeing the benefits of his battles with junior Jontel Evans, the Cavaliers’ starting point guard.
“I can tell you it’s pretty intense,” Jones said. “I can tell I’m getting better. Going against Jontel definitely gets me ready for next year, defensively and offensively, because he guards me, and he’s one of the best lockdown defenders in the ACC.”
Evans said of Jones: “He has a lot of fight in him. He’s tough. He doesn’t back down. It’s that football in him. He’s scrappy, and I like where he’s going to go.”
Like Evans, Jones was a two-sport standout in high school. Jones’ relatives on his mother’s side include hurdler Melissa Morrison-Howard, a two-time bronze medalist at the Olympic Games. His mother was an outstanding sprinter, too, and Jones inherited her speed.
Jones, who as a schoolboy played football and hoops against Kevin Parks, now a UVa tailback, starred as a wide receiver and return specialist at A.L. Brown High. Jones could have pursued a college football career, but his first love was basketball. And so, hoping to raise his stock in that sport, he headed to Fishburne to play for Huckaby, a former Division I assistant coach with extensive contacts in the college basketball world.
“I was just going there to get more exposure,” Jones said, “and Virginia came at me first with an offer.”
Jones committed to UVa in September, joining a class that already included forward Evan Nolte, swingman Justin Anderson and center Mike Tobey. Those three recruits — all ranked among the top 75 prospects in the Class of 2012 by ESPNU — will enroll at Virginia in June.
Anderson, a senior at Montrose Christian in Rockville, Md., was at John Paul Jones Arena on Sunday night to see UVa play arch-rival Virginia Tech. That was Jones’ first game at JPJ as a member of the team, and he cheered from the bench in street clothes.
Before a near-capacity crowd, the ‘Hoos fell 47-45, but it was an unforgettable night for Jones.
“I loved it,” he said. “The crowd was electrifying. Especially when we needed a big stop, they would definitely get up and show their support, and that was a great experience.”
Against the Hokies, the Cavaliers made only 15 of 46 field-goal attempts over, and they were 1 for 14 from 3-point range. To see his new teammates shoot so poorly was no fun, Jones said, and he plans to do all he can to ensure it doesn’t happen again Thursday night, when No. 19 Virginia hosts ACC rival Boston College at JPJ.
“I’m just looking to get in practice and help them work on their games,” Jones said, “so this next game we can get this win.”