Kentucky's Jones ready to finish what he started last season

jsmith3@herald-leader.comApril 1, 2012 

NEW ORLEANS — It's hard to forget the video footage from Jan. 18, 2011.

That was the day Kentucky lost 68-66 to Alabama and Coach John Calipari was caught on national television calling star freshman Terrence Jones the word selfish, followed by an unfortunate expletive.

Jones and Calipari have come a long way from that moment.

There's an evolution, an understanding when they talk about each other, as they did on the day leading up to the Cats' attempt at an NCAA Tournament championship on Monday against Kansas.

"He's like a son to me," Calipari said. "This kid, what he's doing, what he's done, how far he's come, I'm just proud of him."

The feeling between coach and player is quite mutual.

"He's a father figure to me," Jones said of Calipari. "Sometimes, it's tough love with me. Sometimes, it's good love, but I take it all in the same way. I just listen to what he's saying."

Jones said he thinks Calipari is harder on him than he is on the other players. He thinks the coach rides him too hard from time to time, but he thinks he understands why, too:

"He expects a lot from me; I know he loves me; I know how good he thinks I am and how much he believes in me."

That relationship with Calipari was one of many reasons Jones opted to return to UK for his sophomore season.

When Jones told his coach that he planned to return this season despite being projected as a top-20 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Calipari wanted to know why.

After listening to all of Jones' answers, the coach agreed: "OK, but you're going to have to work your butt off because this is not going to be easy," Calipari said Sunday.

He's seen a player who has been willing to do just what he was asked.

Jones has been whatever UK needs him to be, from star to role player. In the NCAA Tournament so far, he's averaged 12 points and 8.4 rebounds. He leads the team in steals (seven) and is second in blocked shots (eight).

The evolution of Jones has been extraordinary, teammate Darius Miller said.

"He's grown so much as a person and a player," Miller said. "He's done a great job of putting in the extra work."

And it's not just on the offensive end, Miller said.

"He's really focused on defense, especially blocking shots and keeping his man off the block," he said of Jones, who probably will guard Kansas All-American Thomas Robinson.

Calipari agreed.

Jones has become so much more than the young kid for whom he had some unfortunate words some 440 days ago.

"He is so much better than a year ago," Calipari said. "He's only going to get better. He's only touching the surface of how good he's going to be."

Jones, who is averaging 12.4 points and 7.2 rebounds for Kentucky this season, said he's glad he returned to UK.

He said he had unfinished business.

"I didn't want to leave losing," Jones said of UK falling one win shy of playing for a national title last year. "I wanted to win a national championship."

He wanted to win for himself and his team, but also for his coach.

"I want to win it for him a lot," Jones said of Calipari. "He does a lot for his players, and he's a players-first coach. He deserves it."

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader.,

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