Notes: Jones gives glimpse of what could be

Notes: Jones gives glimpse of what could be

CHICAGO — Illinois fans have clamored for Tevian Jones this season. If there was one thing they wanted, it was more of the 6-foot-7 freshman guard, and through the first round of the Big Ten tournament, it looked like the fan base was going to be left unfulfilled.

Jones played just two first half minutes in Wednesday’s opener against Northwestern. His stat line contained just a single missed three-point attempt.

But there was the Chandler, Ariz., native popping up off the bench Thursday night against Iowa early in the first half. Jones ultimately played 18 minutes against the Hawkeyes — more than his previous four games combined — and put up 11 points in Illinois’ season-ending 83-62 loss.

“I was locked in,” said Jones, who was 3 of 5 from three-point range. “I was ready to go. Coach called my number, and I was ready. I went out there, and I got some shots.”

Jones' minutes — and correspondingly, his production — have fluctuated greatly this season beyond the eight games he missed from Nov. 27 to Jan. 3 because of a suspension. He didn’t let that affect his preparation, though.

“I’m always ready,” Jones said. “It doesn’t matter if I play 2 minutes here or 2 minutes there.”

His teammates noticed.

“Tev’s been through a lot this season,” said sophomore guard Trent Frazier, who also had 11 points against the Hawkeyes. “He’s never been a guy to complain on the bench about minutes. He’s always ready to go, and (Thursday) was his night. He came in ready to go, and he gave us a spark. He was great for us. These freshmen have been unbelievable for us this season. They’ve done a lot for this team, and I’m excited for them.”

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Two of those freshmen — Ayo Dosunmu and Giorgi Bezhanishvili — played key roles for Illinois all season. Dosunmu led the Illini in scoring and was an All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection. Bezhanishvili was Illinois’ leading rebounder and third-leading scorer.

One of them was clear about his intentions for next season.

“Yeah, definitely will be back,” said Bezhanishvili, who led the Illini with 12 points. "A lot of work has to be done in the offseason. There is a lot of goals — personal goals, team goals. We have to sit back and look at everything. But just a lot of work in the offseason. That’s the goal — as much work as I can personally and as a team.”

Dosunmu, who has had at least some NBA draft buzz since January, was a little more circumspect and chose not to answer a question about his immediate future. Any draft discussions, Underwood said, would come later.

“Those all become family decisions,” Underwood said. “Gathering information is the most important piece of that for him. He’s had a great freshman year — as has Giorgi — and they’ll evaluate their own processes by what they feel is important and best for them.”

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While Dosunmu and Bezhanishvili were starters from game one, Illinois’ three other active freshmen — Jones, Alan Griffin and Samba Kane — played more sparingly. Still, Underwood said he envisions larger roles for that trio next season.

“I’m excited for a guy like Tev and a guy like Alan and a guy like Samba to get in the weight room and understand how much confidence comes from that,” Underwood said. “They all got playing time — they all got minutes — and now they can take that weight room and that strength and the toughness that comes from that and put it into their games. They’ll be a big part of what we do.”

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As well as Bezhanishvili’s freshman season went, the 6-9 Georgian said he still has room for improvement. The next step he wants to take, though, is expanding his game out to the perimeter.

“I was shooting the ball at the start of the season a lot better than now,” Bezhanishvili said. “I want to get that straightened. I know I can do that. I have done that in my past. It wasn’t the place for me to do it this year, I guess, but a lot of work will be done in the offseason and then I can show that next year.

“I will live in the weight room this offseason. I will be different. I would say a different animal coming in next year. I’m excited about that."

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Part of Illinois’ offseason will be an August trip to Italy. Underwood mentioned the trip after Thursday’s game, but had few details to share at the time.

“We’ll get actual game experience,” he stressed. “That could be huge for the new guys who come into the program as we start blending this all together. … The important thing is we get 10 practices around that.”

The side benefits won’t be too shabby either.

“Some good meals and some really good wine,” Underwood said with a smile.

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