CHAMPAIGN — Tevian Jones is coming off his indefinite suspension with the Illinois men’s basketball program.
Meaning the guard is available for Saturday’s 4 p.m. Big Ten opener at No. 3 Maryland.
And some interesting symmetry exists before Jones is able to suit up for the first time this season after he missed the first eight games because of a violation of team academic policies.
The suspension to start this season matched the length of the one he served a year ago as a freshman. That the 6-foot-7, 205-pound sophomore return is coming against Maryland — the team he dropped a career-high 18 points on last season at Madison Square Garden — is also fitting.
But there’s a difference between being available for the opening tip on Saturday afternoon against the Terrapins (9-0) and hitting four three-pointers off the bench to help spearhead an upset, like he did during the Illini’s 78-67 win against No. 13 Maryland last January. Jones’ role for the Illini (6-2) this season is still to be determined.
“Tev’s got to be consistent,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said Friday morning after announcing Jones would, in fact, suit up for the first time this season at Maryland. “He hasn’t played a game yet, but he’s been very good in practice. He’s a guy that can be a really, really hard shot maker. We’ll see how that pans out in terms of minutes and defensive assignments.”
Jones’ career-high scoring performance last season against Maryland also came in a career-high 28 minutes. Odds are he won’t get that same type of run Saturday at the Xfinity Center in College Park, Md. While Jones has practiced since his suspension was announced Oct. 26 — approximately one week before the 2019-20 season started — there will be an adjustment period in getting back on the court.
“He’s not in what I would consider game shape,” Underwood said. “He’s in practice shape. He’s been on the treadmill, and he’s been doing extra workouts in terms of understanding what his conditioning needs to be and working very hard at that.”
Jones does give Illinois another option off the bench, though. Underwood used four reserves total in Monday’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge 81-79 home loss to Miami, but only two — Da’Monte Williams and Alan Griffin — as the Illini mounted their second-half comeback attempt.
Jones would give Illinois some versatility in its second group. He averaged just 3.5 points and 1.4 rebounds in fairly limited action during 24 games last season, but he showed flashes of his potential as a freshman.
The game against Maryland in New York City was the first, and he followed that up with a 10-point outing at Minnesota four days later. His freshman season ended on a fairly high note individually despite the Big Ten tournament loss to Iowa after he shot 4 of 6 from the field and hit three three-pointers to finish with 11 points to go along with three offensive rebounds against the Hawkeyes.
“Tev gives us length,” Underwood said. “He gives us an athlete that we don’t have and haven’t. He’s a guy that can obviously make a shot. He’s proven that.”
Jones also proved something else to Underwood in the last month-plus as he sat out what turned into another eight-game suspension.
“I’m really proud of Tev,” Underwood said. “He had some academic situations that we addressed, and he’s handled those. There’s a lot more to being a part of this than just the basketball side. We forget about the student side. We hold guys accountable, and to his credit, he’s handled that very matter of factly and in a great way.”