- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2002

Popeye Jones claimed one of his 10 rebounds last night with his back against the floor.

That fits the floor-bound player, as unconventional as there is.

Jones looks all wrong on the basketball floor, all kneepads and elbows, flailing every which way, decorating the surface with his 6-foot-9, 250-pound frame.

Floor burns are not intended to be pretty.

Jones wears more padding than a tight end, which is appropriate. He has a tight end's mentality in a game that celebrates those who fly through the air.

Jones is the anti-leaper. His next jump will be his first of the season. He rebounds with a bump here and an imperceptible shove there.

He has a keen sense of where the ball will be after it bounces off the rim. Sometimes he tips the ball to himself if he can't immediately control it. This is an old rebounder's trick. Dennis Rodman also was fairly adept at tipping the ball to himself.

Jones is an equal-opportunity bruiser. He crashes into an opponent or to the floor. It makes no difference to him.

Jones learned a long time ago that he never could be one of the beautiful people in the NBA. There's nothing in his game that meets the definition. He shoots a flat-footed outside shot. His hook shot around the basket is almost mechanical. He missed out the day they were pasing out quickness genes. His listed 6-foot-9 height is optimistic, by an inch or two. His school, Murray State, is a couple of clicks down from the power conferences.

They don't make them like Jones. They don't even want to consider it. They see what he can't do.

Here's what he can do: He makes the right pass. He takes the open shot. He knows where to be on the floor, how to play the angles against quicker opponents. He often draws the opposition's top forward.

Last night it was Shareef Abdur-Rahim, a talented scorer who has earned a spot in the NBA All-Star Game next weekend. Abdur-Rahim is a polished, highly skilled player. The game seemingly comes easy to Abdur-Rahim, the opposite of Jones.

Jones labors at it. He puts on his uniform in a sweat. He has no hair, just prominent ears, and deeply set eyes that sometimes ask, "How could you call a foul on me?"

Jones is underappreciated, easily overlooked around the sizzle of Michael Jordan. Jones became a starter only after Christian Laettner started hanging out on the injured list in December.

Laettner's absence has been felt only because it requires coach Doug Collins to go deeper into his bench. Jones has met his responsibilities. He has posted seven double-doubles this season. The number probably would be higher if he felt a need to prove himself, if there were any ego in his game.

Often when Jones grabs an offensive rebound, he passes the ball out to the top of the key instead of forcing up a shot. The sacrifice, wise though it may be, does not go unnoticed by Collins and Jordan. They appreciate the smarts and the effort.

"An All-Star to his team," Collins said after the Wizards defeated the Hawks 97-90.

As usual, Jones did his unassuming part, finishing with eight points and 10 rebounds in 26 minutes.

They didn't keep a record of his bruises, an ample number, no doubt.

Just to make everyone feel more comfortable, Jones converted two free throw attempts with 3.2 seconds left.

"We're just not good enough to make anything easy," Collins said. "Nothing is going to be pretty for us this season. We're not that kind of team."

Jones reflects the kind of team the Wizards are. Nothing is easy. It is not pretty, not even against the Hawks.

"Popeye is playing against bigger guys, quicker guys," Collins said.

He is playing against guys who have more juice to their games.

Jones is a player only his team could love. It was easy to miss his contributions around the various story lines.

Jordan had 28 points and eight assists, Courtney Alexander 14 points and five assists. Etan Thomas, pressed into duty because of Jahidi White's one-game suspension, finished with nine points and 10 rebounds.

Yet typically, with little fanfare, Jones held up his end.

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