By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Teven Jones stopped by Scott Stadium with his friends Justin Anderson and Jontel Evans to check out UVa football practice Saturday afternoon. Eventually they strolled down from the stands to the sideline, where Anderson picked up a football and fired a pass that Jones easily hauled in.
Jones knows his way around the football field. At A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis, N.C., he was twice named all-conference as a wide receiver. Watching Mike London’s team practice Saturday brought back memories for Jones.
“It really did,” Jones said a couple of days later at John Paul Jones Arena. “I had a couple people ask me if I missed it. I miss it.”
He smiled. “The only thing I don’t miss is playing in the cold weather.”
Jones, of course, plays indoors these days, for the UVa men’s basketball team, which hosts Iowa in a National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal Wednesday night at John Paul Jones Arena. The Cavaliers (23-11), one of the tournament’s four No. 1 seeds, meet the third-seeded Hawkeyes (23-12) at 7 o’clock in a game ESPN2 will televise.
This will be the Wahoos’ third game in the NIT. In each of the first two, the 6-0 Jones helped revive a team that was off to a sluggish start.
“The last two games, all the first-years, but Teven in particular, got us off the schneid, as they say,” UVa coach Tony Bennett said Monday at JPJ.
Against Norfolk State last Tuesday night, Jones entered the game with UVa trailing 8-2 and, about a minute later, hit a 3-pointer. Jones’ second trey, midway through the first half, gave the `Hoos their first lead, and they never trailed again in a 67-56 victory over the Spartans.
Five days later, against St. John’s, Jones replaced Evans at point guard with 11:43 left in the first half. The Cavaliers trailed 8-4, and the crowd at JPJ was restless. Jones helped change that, hitting a 3-pointer that started a 19-3 run for Virginia, which went on to win 68-50.
“I’m an energy guy,” Jones said. “Me and Justin, we’re real energy guys. Everybody knows we play with emotion. So I knew I had to come in the game and bring a little bit of energy, just like the Norfolk State game, when I came in and hit two big 3s and switched the momentum around. And that’s exactly what I did against St. John’s.”
Anderson, a 6-6 freshman who starts at forward for Virginia, could hardly contain himself when asked about Jones’ trey.
“It was huge, and I love when Teven gets going,” Anderson said. “I love when Teven brings that fire and that energy. He’s had a long year, and I respect how he’s battled through adversity. All the things that he’s had to go through, and he’s learning every single game and every day in practice from [Evans], so that’s only going to make him better in the future.”
A second-year academically at UVa, Jones is listed as a redshirt freshman on the basketball roster. After a semester in the postgraduate program at Fishburne Military School in Waynesboro, he enrolled at the University in January 2012. He practiced with the team for the rest of last season but didn’t make his debut for the Cavaliers until November.
Even that was delayed. Jones violated team rules and was suspended for UVa’s two closed scrimmages and the Nov. 9 opener at George Mason. Then he suffered a stinger Nov. 12 at JPJ while warming up before Virginia’s game with Fairfield in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
That sidelined Jones for two games, the second of which was a 59-53 loss to Delaware. That defeat kept the `Hoos from advancing to New York City for two games at Madison Square Garden.
“I was mad, but at the same time I had to try to cheer the team on,” Jones said. “I knew if I’d played it would have been different. Everybody was frustrated.”
In his first game for UVa, Jones came off the bench to play 25 minutes in a romp over Seattle. With Evans, a senior, slow to recover from offseason foot surgery, Jones started nine of the next 10 games. Virginia went 8-1 with him as a starter. Once Evans returned, Jones returned to the bench, and his minutes have fluctuated since then.
“He’s had an interesting year, to say the least,” Bennett said. “He didn’t play early because of the suspension, but then he played a ton. He really was beneficial and productive for us, and then as Jontel came back it kind of shifted the other way, where he just played limited minutes, and there were some games where he didn’t play at all. And now he’s back in there.
“As a freshman, those are things that are going to happen, but he’s worked pretty hard and kept a good attitude, and he’s just tried to be as ready as he can when called upon. He’s given us some nice lifts. He’s grown from some of the times where he’s struggled a bit and gotten some valuable experience for a freshman.”
Jones, who scored a career-high 13 points in a Nov. 20 win over North Texas, is averaging 13.7 minutes per game. He’s shooting 37.9 percent from 3-point range and a team-best 81.5 percent from the line. In his 29 games, he’s averaging 2.9 points and has 34 assists, 26 turnovers and 14 steals.
“It’s been real up and down,” Jones said of his first college season. “It’s just how things go. Next year, [Evans] will be gone, and the point guard spot will be wide open. So I’m just going to compete. Everywhere you go there’s going to be competition.”
When he’s not in the game, Jones cheers hard from the bench for his teammates.
“That’s important,” Bennett said. “It’s a different time in our society — the culture says it’s gotta be about you — but I love that, when I see guys maybe that aren’t getting everything they desire on the floor, but they’ll still pull for their teammates. That’s an unselfish attitude, and that’s really important.”
Since losing to Delaware on Nov. 13, UVa has won 19 consecutive games at JPJ. One final home victory would send the Cavaliers to New York City, where they would face a No. 2 seed, ACC rival Maryland (25-12), in the second NIT semifinal at approximately 9 o’clock Tuesday night.
“It would mean a lot,” Jones said. “Madison Square Garden, that’s one of the most famous arenas in history, and I’ve never been to New York. So I would love to go to New York.”