Arkansas basketball:

Mason Jones 'dialed in' as junior year nears

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Friday, July 5, 2019
Arkansas' Mason Jones gestures during a game against LSU on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas' Mason Jones gestures during a game against LSU on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — Very soon after Arkansas' 2018-19 season ended at Indiana in the NIT, Mason Jones began preparing for his junior year.

A visit to Razorbacks strength and conditioning coach Dave Richardson's office was toward the top of his to-do list, and it was there that he laid out all he hoped to accomplish in his second season at Arkansas.

To reach those goals, he would need to become lighter on his feet, shave off a few extra pounds - listed at 207 pounds on Arkansas' official roster - and dedicate himself to offseason training like never before.

Jones, through June at least, has done that behind a brand-new mentality.

"This year I’m really dialed in to everything," he said. "This is probably the most serious I’ve ever been in my life because I know that last year people didn’t really expect me to do what I was doing, and this year I want to take it even a step further.

"To do that I know I have to work harder and take more things serious and take a different approach this year."

Jones finished his sophomore season third on the team in scoring at 13.6 points per game and second in rebounding and assists. He led the Razorbacks in scoring 10 times, most notably dropping 30 in home losses to Florida and Mississippi State, and shot better than 53 percent from 3-point range in March - 13 of 21 (62 percent) on the left side of the floor.

He also failed to reach 10 points in 12 other games, including three of Arkansas' final four of the season. Jones found himself coming off former Razorbacks coach Mike Anderson's bench, too, over the final month of the schedule, which took some adjusting.

Jones said he was not focused on the right things on occasion. At times he found himself scrolling through comments and opinions on Twitter and Instagram, and he became distracted by them.

Through each trial - on and away from the floor - and experience in Year 1, Jones says it has made him a different person entering 2019-20.

"I’ve just got so much on my shoulders that I’m ready to get off, and I’m just so motivated to let people see that it wasn’t a fluke and I can only get better," he added. "I’m proud of everything I learned last year and what God put me through.

"He’s going to display what’s going to happen this year."

Last season was far from Jones' first run-in with adversity. Other personal struggles can be traced back to his childhood when he wrestled with being labeled as eventual Duke star Matt Jones' younger brother, and being overweight.

It led to a bout with depression, he said.

"At a young age I was real, real big and I didn’t know where I was and I didn’t play basketball," Jones said. "I didn’t get a lot of spotlight. I wanted to make a name for myself. ... Where I came from, a lot of people didn’t expect me to be here."

A quick glance at the tattoo on his left wrist, which reads 'Fear None' in red ink and 'Never let fear decide your fate' in black writing, is a reminder of how far he's come and motivation to continue working toward his dreams.

"At a young age I heard so much stuff, like, ‘Can’t play. Fat. Depressed,’" he said. "In life if you fear things and you don’t feel like getting through it then it’s not helping you. I feel like I’m not supposed to be here.

"But I didn’t let that get to me, so I wanted to keep pushing my story out there and let others know hard work will pay off."

His work this offseason, which has included a timed mile run completed in 5:36, crossfit and boxing lessons with teammates, is yielding positive results not only offensively, but defensively, he says. In watching sophomore film, Jones feels as if he wasn't fully engaged on that end.

He ranked sixth on the team among regulars in 2018-19 in defensive rating (103.8), according to Sports Reference, ahead of Keyshawn Embery-Simpson, who transferred to Tulsa on April 1, Jalen Harris and Desi Sills.

"Ever since they came in my game has skyrocketed, my body has went crazy and they’ve pushed me to a whole other level I thought I’d never get to," he said of Arkansas' coaching staff. "They came in and gave us plans and laid the path out for us, like, 'If you follow it then we’ll get you there.'

"This year there’s going to be some good things coming. I’m going to be myself. I know people are expecting big things from me, so I’m ready."

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