West Virginia was two wins shy of a national championship. While that won’t be any immediate consolation to the players who worked all season to get to the Final Four, it’s a lot better than 300-something other D-1 teams can say. Kevin Jones was an instrumental part in the Mountaineers’ run, averaging 13.5 points and 7.2 rebounds this season. And in WVU’s four NCAA Tournament wins, the 6-8 sophomore forward was good for 15 points and 8 boards a game.
Kevin agreed to check in with Dime during the most hectic week of his career to give us a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like reaching the pinnacle of college basketball. After West Virginia lost to Duke in the national semifinal Saturday night, he reflected on the season and the Final Four experience:
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Dime: What was the routine Saturday before the Duke game?
Kevin Jones: It started off like every other day. We got up at 9 a.m., ate breakfast and had shootaround from 11 to 12. We had a few hours of downtime, lunch at 3:30, then we left for the game around 7 o’clock. We got to the stadium and watched the end of the Butler/Michigan State game.
Did you watch any of the Butler game before you got to the stadium?
Yeah, we all pretty much watched it in our own rooms until we had to get on the bus. We were all trying to stay off our feet as much as possible, so we didn’t like, get together and watch it.
On the bus ride over, what was the mood?
It was the same as usual. Everybody had their headphones on listening to their game-ready songs. It was pretty calm and relaxed.
Did Coach (Bob) Huggins or Da’Sean (Butler) give any kind of last battle cry or say something special coming out of the locker room before the game?
No, not really. We all knew what was at stake, so there wasn’t really much that needed to be said. We knew we just had to go out there and play as hard as possible.
What was the game plan against Duke?
We knew that they were a pretty good offensive rebounding team, so we wanted to keep them off the boards as much as possible. And if we could shut down two of their three main scorers, we figured we’d be good.
So what happened?
I mean, they’re just a good team. They shot the ball really well. They came out and basically took the game to us. They had us back on our heels the whole game. It was like whenever we tried to make a comeback, one of their Big Three would hit a key important shot. We were playing catch-up the whole game and couldn’t get over the hump.
Where were you when Da’Sean got hurt?
I was right on the baseline when it happened. I was looking right at it. Da’Sean can be pretty dramatic sometimes when he gets hurt, so I figured he would get up. When he didn’t, I knew something was wrong because he usually bounces back up. I was just praying it was nothing serious and doesn’t affect his basketball career.
A lot of people were surprised to see Coach Huggins console Da’Sean like he did, since his reputation is that he’s this big bully. Had you seen that side of him before?
That’s what he would have done for any of us. Everybody sees him always yelling, but nobody gets to see the more personal side of him. Coach is a very genuine guy; he cares about all of us and he lets us know he cares. If anybody else on the team would’ve got hurt like that, he’d do the same thing.
What was the mood on the team after that? It seemed like you guys were out of it at that point.
We just, like, couldn’t believe what happened. Da’Sean is such a key part to us all year. It was just painful to see that happen to him in the last game of his career.
What was it like in the locker room after the game?
It was sad, of course, because we lost and because of what happened to Da’Sean. Coach said he was proud of us for the season we had, and that we were a really special team to him. It was an emotional, family type of thing. That’s what we are at the end of the day, a family.
After a big loss like that, are you going through everything in your head and thinking, “I could’ve done this,” or “What if I would’ve done this?”
Definitely. After any game, win or lose, I’m always thinking of things I could have done better. There were definitely some things I knew I could have done better against Duke (6 pts, 5 rebs, 37 mins), but I also know I played my heart out. I don’t have any regrets, except for us losing.
Do you think you’re going to watch the Duke/Butler national championship game?
I mean, it’s gonna be hard, but I might watch a little bit of it.
So what’s next for the team?
We get two weeks off. Most of that time you want to us to rest your body and focus on school a little bit more. Then you gotta start getting focused and prepared for next season. I don’t know how we’re gonna look; Of course we’ve got two seniors leaving (Butler and Wellington Smith), and I’m not sure what Devin (Ebanks) is gonna do.
Is there anything specific you already know you want to work on for next season?
Creating my own shot, being able to take guys off the dribble. Focusing more on getting to the rack and drawing fouls. And I need to get my free-throw percentage up. Just my all-around game, working on the things I’m already good at while improving my weaknesses.
Is there anything you can learn from this Final Four experience and take into next year?
Definitely. This is not how you want to end the season, especially with Da’Sean’s injury. One thing you learn is everything is not guaranteed; things can be taken away from you so quick, so while you’ve got the moment you have to do your best.