Kentucky freshman Jones gets to go home for second game of his career

Recruiting struggles behind him, family pushes him forward

jtipton@herald-leader.comNovember 18, 2010 

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Kentucky's Terrence Jones, right, originally said he would attend the University of Washington, but changed his mind shortly after his public announcement. The reversal caused some backlash in his native Oregon.

PABLO ALCALA

Kentucky's game at Portland Friday night takes freshman Terrence Jones home.

Back to where he shared a house with four females: His older sister, Ashley, his mother, Linda, his grandmother, Pearl, and his aunt, Ava.

Back to a stressful recruiting saga that saw him manage to anger fan bases of all the contending schools by committing to Washington and then a few weeks later signing with UK.

Back to the extended family that will require "40 or 50 tickets, at least," to watch him play, Ava said. "And we're still trying to get more tickets."

"I can't wait just to show my new team and show how much I've improved since high school," Jones said. "I just hope I play well enough to make my mom proud."

UK Coach John Calipari fretted about whether the homecoming would make him proud. For a team with only 10 players, and Jones coming off a game in which he became only the second Kentucky freshman to exceed 20 points and 10 rebounds in his debut, that is an understandable concern.

"I told him I've yet to have a guy go home and play well, good luck," Calipari quipped on Wednesday. "... Terrence thinks he'll be home on vacation and he doesn't know we're playing a basketball game because he's never done this before. He's already lined up everything he's going to do by the minute when he gets home. He's probably not listed the game, Friday at 7:30 (local time)."

Not to worry, said Jones, who smiled at Calipari's concerns. Other than a visit with Calipari to the neighborhood center, Self Enhancement Inc., that served as a second home, Jones plans to be all business.

"I'm not going to try to do anything to impress them," he said of relatives and friends who will be in the Rose Garden. "They've known me almost my entire life. I'm just going to go out and play the way Coach Cal expects me to play, and just play my game."

Jones gives Ava credit for his game. Even before his parents divorced when he was in kindergarten, Jones became attached to Ava. She introduced him to sports. "I played (basketball) because of her," he said.

Ava Mashia, one of 10 children, was a tomboy. She loved sports and loved beating the boys.

"I was usually the best athlete in the neighborhood," she said. "I'd usually win. They'd usually cry."

Ava played for the girls' basketball team at the same Jefferson High School that Terrence later led to three Oregon state championships. As a student at the University of Washington, she walked on the women's team.

When Terrence came along, Ava became his playmate. His mother, Linda, and his sister, Ashley, would go shopping. Ava would play with Terrence beginning when he was 3 until he was 10 or 11, she recalled.

"He had so much energy," Ava said. "... My whole thing was to tire him."

They rode bicycles to the park. They swam. They played every sport. "She'd bring a bag of baseballs, footballs, basketballs," Jones said. "She loves sports and so she taught me every one."

Ava's ulterior motive was to have Terrence want to go to sleep at a decent hour. "At the end of the day, I was exhausted," she said.

By default, Jones became the man of the house.

"It was real good except for me having to do every chore that was manly," he said.

Manly chores?

"Cleaning gutters," he said. "Take out the garbage. Vacuuming weird spots that they didn't want to touch."

Ashley described the childhood she shared with Terrence as "having three mothers to answer to."

In terms of a basketball education, Ava taught Jones well. He averaged 30 points and 14 rebounds as a senior. Besides the three state championships, he joined Kevin Love and Fred Jones as the only players to twice be named Class 5A Player of the Year by the newspaper in Portland, The Oregonian.

Naturally, colleges showed recruiting interest in this McDonald's All-American. That's when the trouble began.

Jones had plenty of good choices (Kentucky, Washington, Kansas, Oklahoma and UCLA) and little desire to disappoint any of his suitors. To complicate the situation, two high school teammates were going to Washington.

"What everybody else is going to feel, that's why he was so torn," Ashley said of her brother. "Trying to please everyone. When he finally got selfish enough to please himself and put himself first, things got easier."

Jones' doubt and indecision hung in the air when he first committed to Washington.

"When he picked up the Washington hat, that shocked me more than anything," Ava said. "What?! I was flabbergasted."

Jones tellingly did not sign a letter of intent. Instead, he called the other coaches and told them of his unsettled mind. Ultimately, he signed with Kentucky, because UK held the much greater chance for immediate playing time, Ava said. "He went with his heart."

Fans went with their spleen. Fans of the schools other than Washington, then fans of schools other than Kentucky, vented their frustration on Jones' Facebook page and sent angry text messages to his cell phone.

"They were saying the worst things they could say," Jones said.

Ashley stepped in and played what she called "the big-sister role." She tried to protect her brother by deleting postings on his Facebook page and text messages before Jones could see them.

The fans questioned Jones' character, his loyalty, his trustworthiness.

"I didn't see any racial comments," Ashley said in response to a reporter's question. "But, profanity? Yes."

When asked if Kentucky fans criticized her brother when he first committed to Washington, Ashley said, "Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Calling him a traitor. Saying he didn't keep his word."

Now, those same fans cheer Jones, who goes home to Portland a happy and contented player.

"One thing that's a little different between my brother and me," Ashley said. "He's far more forgiving than I am."

All went exceedingly well in Kentucky's opening-game victory last Friday. Jones scored 25 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to join Sam Bowie (22 points, 17 rebounds against Duke) as the only UK freshmen to debut so gaudily.

That it took prodding from Calipari to get Jones going in that game came as no surprise to Ashley, who is a senior majoring in marketing at Howard University. Her brother needs cajoling.

"In all aspects," she said. "The same way he needs (prodding) from Calipari to give his all and give his best, it's the same way with academics."

Academic suspension caused Jones to miss the first two games of the season his junior year of high school.

"He's capable of doing anything he sets his mind to," Ashley said. "But it just takes some pushing sometimes.

"Even with chores. He's a laid-back person like a lot of kids. He needs a push to do things he doesn't always consider fun."

According to Jones, it took a nudge from Calipari to get him to sign with Kentucky. The UK coach dangled the possibility of a game in Portland this season.

"He told me it was possible as long as I decided before a certain time," Jones said. "Once I knew I was coming here, I had to tell him."

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