With the 2021-22 season long since in the books, let’s take a few moments to look back at the performance of each member of YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles this year. While we’re at it, we’ll also take a look back at our player previews and see how our preseason prognostications stack up with how things actually played out. We’ll run through the roster in order of total minutes played going from lowest to highest, and today we move along to the highest profile true freshman on the team this past season......
Freshman - #1 - Guard - 6’4” - 185 pounds - Cordova, Tennessee
Kam Jones Traditional Stats
Kam Jones Fancy Stats
** — denotes top 500 national ranking per KenPom.com
The problem with trying to hammer down what we could qualify as a reasonable expectation for Kam Jones is that we don’t really know what Shaka Smart’s Marquette basketball looks like yet. We can take things from open practices and statements that the head coach has made in public, but at the end of the day, we’re kind of just guessing, especially for freshmen who haven’t stepped onto a collegiate court yet. Not only do we not know exactly how Smart wants to work and look, but we don’t really know how freshmen like Jones will adjust to playing hoops at the Big East level.
For Jones in specific, part of this gets figured out by Smart deciding whether or not Jones is a point guard for him. If he is, that’s good news for Jones’ opportunity for playing time. Marquette’s closest thing to an experienced returning point guard is Greg Elliott, and the closest thing to an experienced point guard on the roster is Darryl Morsell. I don’t think we can say that either one have really played point guard at all at the collegiate level, not for any extended length of time. As such, if Jones does fit that role, then there are lots of minutes for him to play. If Jones projects more as a shooting guard or an off-guard in Smart’s system... well, then maybe he’s spending most of his freshman year sitting around and spelling Morsell and Elliott when they need a breather.
And that could still be fairly often! Smart keeps talking about how his players need to be able to walk up right and breathe after playing for three minutes, so there’s a real chance that a bench role for Jones is still going to turn into a lot of minutes for him as a freshman.
For the time being? I think we have to just go with “gets his feet wet and is a positive contributor” for an expectation for Jones. After all, if we’re going by T-Rank’s projections, Jones doesn’t come in as one of the top 10 expected biggest contributors to the season right now.
Why You Should Get Excited
I want to share some quotes with you from back when Jones committed to play for Marquette.
“Kam has always been the underdog,” Evangelical Christian coach Willie Jenkins added. “He has always gone against the grain. His family decided that they weren’t going to listen to everybody’s opinion but listen to God and their hearts. When people were saying he shouldn’t go to a private school, they did. When people said he should play for a different AAU team, they stayed loyal to Team Thad. Trusting the process is the only thing he knows and that’s what makes him special.”
Jones has good size and length for the position, physical upside, is a big time difficult shot maker and competes on defense.
“Kam is a natural scorer,” Jenkins said. “He can really score. But the beauty about Kam is his IQ of the game and his passing ability. He can really see the floor.
“I play him at the point, but the offense we run is kind of a college offense where multiple people can play the point. So whoever gets (the ball) comes out in the pick-and-roll and things like that. He would come to me and say ‘Hey, coach, what do you think about this right here?’ And I’d say ‘Hey, let’s do it.’ Really high IQ.”
High IQ, physical upside, competes on defense, used to a style of play where lots of guards get a chance to run the show, always been the underdog....
Am I crazy or does this all really fit everything that Shaka Smart has been saying — either literally out loud by by his recruiting scholarship offers — that he wants to see in Marquette basketball? If Jones is ready to go right out of the gate, then it seems like there’s a place for him to make an impact for the Golden Eagles. Things might not be perfect all the time, but that’s just the fact of being a freshman. Marquette isn’t deep at guard and if someone can step up and grab ahold of minutes, then that’s going to be very welcome both by the coaching staff and the fans in the stands. Maybe Jones can be that guy.
Go ahead and insert your standard issue “well, he’s a freshman” bit right here. If he’s not getting it right away or even as the season goes along, then he’s not, and Jones isn’t going to play. That’s the kind of thing that happens with freshmen sometimes.
In addition to that angle of it, the fact of the matter is that while there are minutes available for Jones to grab onto, Marquette does have a cluster of guards ready to grab them. There’s only 120 minutes of court time available between the three guard/wing positions on the floor, and it’s pretty reasonable to think that 30 of them are going to Darryl Morsell if he wants them. Greg Elliott is the next most experienced backcourt player and is likely to grab a whole ton of playing time, and Tyler Kolek is looking awfully close to max minutes as well. At some point, there just stops being time available for someone who can’t make a big impact on the floor especially if fellow freshmen Stevie Mitchell and Emarion Ellis get started on a hot streak.
That’s just the guards. It’s entirely possible that Shaka Smart sees a way for Olivier-Maxence Prosper or David Joplin to get minutes at the 3. If that’s the case, that’s just less possible playing time for Jones if he’s struggling in November.
All of this is possibly just the coating to a bigger potential problem: Kam Jones isn’t a Shaka Smart recruit. I don’t know how many of you remember Steve Wojciechowski’s first two seasons at Marquette. What I remember about them is Wojciechowski apparently convincing John Dawson to stick with Marquette before letting him play four minutes in the opener and never putting him on the court again until Dawson transferred at semester break. I also remember incoming freshman Sandy Cohen being convinced to stick with the Golden Eagles instead of heading elsewhere after Buzz Williams departed...... and Wojciechowski seemingly losing interest in playing him at all as his sophomore season progressed.
Now, I don’t think that Shaka Smart is as much of a dingbat as Steve Wojciechowski is, and feel free to look at Wojciechowski’s record in terms of players leaving Marquette early to get a measure of how much of a dingbat he is. I firmly believe that if this freshman season doesn’t work out especially well for Jones, it’s not going to be because Smart decides that he doesn’t care about the kid on the team that he didn’t recruit. But we all have to admit that there’s a chance that Jones doesn’t 100% fit into what Smart wants to do on the floor as a result of that recruiting disconnect, and it might lead to a not-so-great 2021-22 season as a result.
It would seems that we are going to have to figure out a way to control ourselves from going completely over the top to talk about Kam Jones’ freshman year at Marquette. Did you read all of that from his player preview back in October? That is 1,200 fairly reasonable and well balanced words that can be summed up with “man, I dunno, let’s see what happens, worst case is he’s a freshman doing freshman things, I guess.”
Did you realize that Kam Jones was one of the first three guys off the bench (three guys subbed in together) for Shaka Smart this season? As a freshman? In game #1 of the 2021-22 season? That he was the first guy off the bench in the exhibition game? That when Shaka Smart felt he needed to shake up his starting lineup eight games into the season, it was Kam Jones that he turned to as a starter? In Game #8 of his collegiate career?
Did you realize that Kam Jones finished with the lowest turnover rate on the entire team at 12.5% per KenPom.com? Did you know that Kam Jones had the second best three-point shooting percentage — 44.4% — amongst all Big East players in league action this season? Did you catch that Kam Jones played double digit minutes in all but two games this season, and one of them was a game that he unexpectedly sat out? Did you realize that there was just one other game in addition to those two sub-10 minute games where Jones didn’t score at least three points for Marquette?
It wasn’t an objectively capital-G great freshman season, not in the category of “wow, would you look at what Henry Ellenson is doing!” or what have you, but it was a great freshman season relative to what we expected from Jones at the start of the year.
We haven’t even discussed the emergence — debut? immediate appearance? — of, depending on how you want to label things, Transition Kam or Kam Stones. Time after time after time after time, Jones showed absolutely no fear on the court, particularly when it was time to catch an outlet pass and drain a triple in transition. That’s a big time shot from a big time player with big time trust in his game.... and Jones was doing that as a freshman. What’s he going to look like when he gets comfortable out there next yearand understands exactly how things work at the Big East level???
I think we can definitely say this: It’s fun to watch Kam Jones play basketball, and it’s definitely fun to watch Kam Jones play basketball for Shaka Smart. I would like to watch more of it, so if the next six months could just skedaddle along so we can get to that, I would very much appreciate it, thank you.
You can make an argument for the Ole Miss game, since that was his breakout game with 18 points and three assists, but he went 2-for-9 from beyond the arc. Feels like that can’t be it. His season high in points came at home against Georgetown, coming off the bench to tally a game high 19 while knocking down five of his 10 long range attempts, and added two rebounds and two assists..... but it was against Georgetown.... but also Marquette really needed that win after losing three of the previous four. I think I want to go with Kansas State. 15 points in his best scoring outing while starting for Shaka Smart in seven games this season, getting there on 5-for-9 shooting and 4-for-8 from long range, plus he added three rebounds and an assist on the road in a one point MU victory.
I don’t think we can go huge here, not just because Jones went from “man, I dunno” to “perfectly competent Big East player and sometimes starter” as the season went along. That’s really great stuff, but I don’t think it warrants a perfect score so to speak. I am comfortable calling it an 8. If you wanted to say 9, I wouldn’t argue with you, but I also don’t think you can go any lower than 8.