- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Lofty expectations have followed Maryland guard Mike Jones throughout his career, the byproduct of a prodigious prep career and a tantalizing outside stroke capable of changing games.

The rest of his game, though, finally might be filling out at the perfect time for the Terrapins.

Jones scored at will in high school and was named a McDonald’s All-American. His college coach once acknowledged his position was “shooter” when he arrived at Maryland, a label he couldn’t shed for several seasons. But now it might be dissolving after a pair of strong outings last week as No. 24 Maryland continued its push toward an NCAA tournament berth.

“Three years,” coach Gary Williams said of about how long Jones’ evolution took. “It’s how it’s been, but he’s a different player this year.”

As the Terps (22-7, 8-6 ACC) concocted a five-game winning streak entering tonight’s visit to No. 14 Duke (22-7, 8-6), Jones enjoyed a resurgence as well. The senior fit cohesively into Maryland’s offense better than perhaps at any previous stretch of his career.

His rebounding — never Jones’ strong suit despite a 6-foot-5 frame — has become more opportune even if his average is down from last year. His passing is vastly better — a slick assist inside to D.J. Strawberry to set up a 3-point play in the first half Sunday against North Carolina a sample of the improvement. He also has a career high in steals.

“I realize you’re not always going to come out and score 30 points, 20 points,” Jones said. “There’s going to be times where you have 10 points but five rebounds and three or four assists to help you win. It’s just a matter of, if you can’t score, I look at it like building up every other aspect in the stats.”

As Jones has solidified everything else in recent weeks, his shooting has taken off. He dropped in 14 points against Florida State, then relied on his ability to roll off screens and hit mid-range jumpers on his way to an 18-point night in the upset of North Carolina.

It was the first time since November that Jones trumped his season average of 12.7 points in consecutive games. Yet he’s still contributed for much of the season, and his prolific shooting and added nuances could make him a vital cog for the Terps in the postseason.

“He’s not just one-dimensional anymore,” Strawberry said. “It took a lot of hard work for that because in high school, he was just better than everybody else and he would just catch and shoot. Athletically, he was just a freak, so he could do whatever he wanted to do. Coming in here, he had to work a lot harder and he’s gotten a lot better. He’s picked his spots. He’s not just firing it up like he used to do.”

Jones still has his errant moments, but his shooting both inside and beyond the 3-point arc this season are the best of his career. He’s shooting 48 percent (24-for-50) during Maryland’s winning streak, breaking out of a frustrating slump that coincided with the Terps’ midseason struggles.

Another strong game tonight would assure the Terps at least the No. 5 seed in next week’s ACC tournament and keep Jones on a roll heading into the final home game of his career Saturday.

“I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing that I’ve had an up and down year as far as scoring,” Jones said. “But I’m having fun. This is probably one of my best years.”

No matter what, Jones probably will be remembered as the potential dynamic scorer many envisioned he would become. The laid-back senior seems unconcerned, possibly knowing he could also be recalled for other reasons should he help the Terps make an extended NCAA push.

“Mike’s a great player and he does great things, but everybody expected him to be Steve Francis or somebody like that. That’s just not his game,” Strawberry said. “He came in with the high reputation and so far he’s had his ups and downs, but now he’s peaking at the right time.”

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