Kevin Jones first appeared in Dime when he was a junior at storied Mount Vernon (N.Y.) High School, and has been down with the magazine ever since. Now a sophomore at West Virginia, the 6-8 forward has been instrumental in the Mountaineers run to this year’s Final Four, averaging 13.7 points and 7.2 rebounds this season. And in WVU’s first four wins of the Tournament, he’s been good for over 15 points and 8 boards a game.
Kevin has agreed to check in with Dime during the most hectic week of his career to give us a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like reaching the pinnacle of college basketball:
*** *** ***
Dime: When you first saw the tournament bracket and your region, what did you think of your chances?
Kevin Jones: As soon as we saw the matchups and everything, I thought we had the toughest road to the Final Four. We had to go through so many good teams, and every game was gonna be a challenge. But we still tried to take it one game at a time.
Which game was the toughest?
Probably Kentucky because of their size and the matchups. It was frustrating because everybody had us losing to them; everybody was looking at us like we were gonna roll over and just let them beat us. So we were happy to prove everybody wrong.
What was the game plan going in against Kentucky, and how did it work out?
Just to keep a body on their big guys, because we know they’re a very good rebounding team. Eliminate DeMarcus Cousins‘ touches as much as possible, then try to stop them in transition since John Wall is so fast. We tried to get them out of their game. We did good on everything except for the rebounding part. We knew they weren’t a great shooting team, so the more they shot the ball outside instead of getting it into the paint to their big guys, that was an advantage to us.
At what point did you feel like you had that game won?
Probably not until it was like 10 seconds left and we were up by seven. One of their guys shot a three and missed it, and Devin (Ebanks) grabbed it out of the air. I knew it was pretty much over then.
You cut down the nets at MSG after the Big East Tournament. What was it like cutting them down in the NCAA Tournament?
It was kind of the same feeling, but it was different because nobody thought we’d be able to win that game. Proving everybody wrong made it even more special. Making the first Final Four for West Virginia since 1959, that made it special.
So you go to the locker room after the win, and what’s that like?
Everybody was happy, but it was like almost as soon as we got there, it wasn’t that much celebrating because we knew we had to focus on the next game. We didn’t know who we were gonna play yet, but we knew the next game was gonna be even tougher.
What was it like when you got back to campus?
The atmosphere was great. We got back at like 1:30 in the morning and there were a lot of people outside the Coliseum waiting there to greet us.
What has the team been doing since then?
Sunday and Monday we had off. (Tuesday) was the first day of practice. We watched a half-hour of film, then we got on the court for two and a half hours. We’re gonna do the same thing (Wednesday), then we leave for Indianapolis.
Where did you watch the Duke/Baylor game?
I watched it at my brother’s house in West Virginia. Everybody on the team watched it, some of us were just at different spots. It was a crazy game, but we didn’t really care who won; we were ready for whoever came our way.
What makes Duke a tough opponent?
Everybody on their team knows their role and they know how to play. When they see they have an advantage somewhere, they take full advantage of it. They have the three main scorers (Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith), so I think if we shut them down we’ll be fine.
Has Coach (Bob) Huggins said anything about what to expect this week and once you get to Indianapolis?
Yeah. Coach has been to the Final Four before (1992), so he told us to be prepared for a lot of media coming into your face. He said you might get tired of it, but just make sure not to say the wrong things and be aware of any questions where they may be trying to flip something around on you.
So he doesn’t want you to create bulletin board material for your opponent. As players, is that something you guys pay attention to coming from other teams?
Yeah, definitely. Any little motivation you can get, you take it. We would use stuff like that ourselves, so we don’t wanna go out there and give another team a reason to use it as extra motivation. So you just have to know what to say and not overstep your boundaries.
Has practice been the same as usual, or different because it’s the Final Four?
No, it’s pretty much the same. We went after it hard like we always do. We did some defensive stuff and cleaned up the offense a little.
What’s the response been like from family, friends, people at school, Facebook, Twitter, all of that? Are you more popular than you were last week?
Yeah, man (laughs). The response has been great. I have Facebook, so I’ve been getting a lot of friend requests and more people messaging me, telling me how proud of the team and how proud of me they are. I’m glad we can do this for the state of West Virginia; it means a lot to them and a lot to us. If we can bring that national championship back, that will be really special.