Break from hoops has Jones recharged with laser focus for Illini

 

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CHAMPAIGN — Tevian Jones spent the time from the end of the spring semester in mid-May and his return to campus earlier this month laying low. The Illinois sophomore guard didn’t spend much time in the gym. He used it instead as what he called "me time" to take care of himself.

Jones saw that downtime as important. His freshman season at Illinois epitomized the idea of a roller-coaster season. The four-star, top-100 recruit arrived in Champaign a year ago with some fairly lofty expectations on his shoulders as exactly the type of athletic wing the Illini coveted.

One game in late January — Jones’ 18-point breakout at Madison Square Garden in a big win against Maryland — was the Chandler, Ariz., native just beginning to tap into his potential. The eight-game suspension for a violation of team rules that kept him sidelined the entirety of December wasn’t.

So that’s why Jones felt it necessary to focus on himself in his few weeks off and come back to Champaign for another round of summer workouts with laser focus.

"It was good for me to kind of get away from it for a little bit and get my mind right and get myself right so I could come back and be my best self," Jones said. "It did help. It helped me get more focused on the goal at hand and goal at task. That was good for me. I was able to clear my mind of all distractions and all the other things that weren’t good for me. I was able to get focused while I was away.

"My mindset (coming back to campus) was go 100 percent and make sure I’m getting better every single day — not taking anything off and not taking anything lightly. I’m making sure I was getting right back into the flow of things and right where I left off."

Jones scored eight points in his Illinois debut in the 2018-19 season opener against Evansville. He pulled down four rebounds, too, and while not making any of his three-point attempts was confident enough in himself to take them. The next five games saw the 6-foot-7, 205-pound wing play sparingly. Then came the suspension, which stretched from the Nov. 27 game at Notre Dame through the first Big Ten game of the new year on Jan. 3 at Indiana.

"That did impact me," Jones said about his time on the bench. "When I came back, I tried to give everything I could give. I guess it just wasn’t enough to get us where we needed to go, but this year, that’s going to be different."

Jones is different. He owned up to the mistake that led to his suspension when he returned in January. Put in extra work on and off the court to try and both make up for the games he didn’t play and catch up because he missed out on the opportunity to do so.

A year of college basketball under his belt, Jones feels different, too.

"I feel like I did change," he said. "I matured a great deal. I changed mentally. I grew up more, so I know what to do now. That did change me. I feel like I’m coming back this year a different person — a different Tevian Jones — and I feel like everybody’s going to see that. I feel like, at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to be best for this team.

"I view the whole last season as a learning experience. I learned a lot last year sitting out and being able to watch from the sidelines and then going back in the game."

Jones’ focus this summer is three-fold. At the top of his list is becoming a better defender — putting his athleticism and length to good use. Both will help him on the offensive end, too. Mostly, though, Jones just wants to win after Illinois struggled down the stretch and finished last season with 12 wins and a program record 21 losses.

"Our goal is to win the Big Ten championship and be in the NCAA tournament," Jones said. "My goal is to help this team do that, and whatever I need to do to help this team I’m going to do it."

So Jones has stepped up his effort this offseason. He’s spending more time in the gym with assistant coaches Chin Coleman and Orlando Antigua working on his shot, footwork and ability to finish at the rim. When it comes to shots, he’s simply taking more — as many as 500-600 a day.

"That is more than I was shooting (last season)," Jones said. "I wasn’t really getting that many shots up a day, and I was inconsistent with getting my shots up. I feel like that’s what’s really been helping me is staying consistent.

"I feel like I can bring a lot to this team. Last year, I wasn’t really able to do what I needed to do because I was out for a little bit. I’m going to have a full year this year. With that, I’m going to be able to bring my full potential out. My full potential will be able to show. I’ll be able to help this team with rebounds and scoring and on the defensive end."

Jones is putting in work off the court, too. Half his official workout time each week — like his teammates — is spent with strength and conditioning coach Adam Fletcher. Jones said he’s already gained three or four pounds this month, and his added strength can help him be more physical and "dominate" at his position.

Just as helpful has been the extra time he’s spent with assistant to the head coach Geoff Alexander watching film.

"We’ve been talking about some of the offensive stuff — some of the things at the wing position through the offense — that I can do that could help me be more efficient," Jones said. "That’s really been helping me, and I feel like that’s going to bring my game to another level.

"I want to see myself improving more on the mental part of the game. Make sure I’m staying one or two steps ahead. … I’m making sure I understand what’s going on on the court so I can execute what I need to do."

College/Prep Sports Reporter

Scott Richey is a reporter covering college basketball at The News-Gazette. His email is srichey@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@srrichey).