Arkansas junior forward Mason Jones is enjoying a season of epic proportions.
He earned his fourth SEC Player of the Week honor this week. Jones is just the third SEC player to garner the award four times in a season since the award’s inception in 1985 joining Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks (2008-09) and Vanderbilt’s Shan Foster (2007-08).
Jones leads the leads the SEC in scoring (21.3 ppg). He’s looking to become the first Razorback to own that distinction.
Four Hogs led the Southwest Conference in scoring before heading to the SEC in 1991. Jones is the only SEC player this season to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.
He is also the only player in the SEC to rank among the league’s top 20 in scoring, rebounding (19th), assists (11th) and steals (7th) this year. Jones leads the NCAA in free throws made and attempted.
So Jones, who has scored at least 30 points in seven games, is having a season that not many Hogs have enjoyed.
His unique success has spurred the debate on different Arkansas talk radio programs regarding his status among the Hogs elite. The argument is normally short-lived.
Sure, Jones makes a case with sensational numbers. You read above that he is the only Hog to lead the SEC in scoring. That’s pretty big-time. However, two things weigh against him being remembered among the greats for years to come.
Timing is everything and unfortunately, Jones’ big season has come during a rebuilding year. However, it must be noted that if Jones hadn’t made the kind of improvement he has, this team would be nowhere close to a postseason bid.
For now, it looks like the NIT, which while it is an accomplishment with the lack of talent and depth available to first-year coach Eric Musselman, the stars of those teams are very rarely recognized with the most coveted of individual honors.
If Arkansas was a Top 10 team and gunning for an SEC championship, Jones would be in the conversation as an All-American and Wooden Award and Naismith Player of the year. The lack of team success has taken some of the luster off his performance.
The other factor working against Jones is that while Arkansas doesn’t have a great recent tradition, it did have an extensive heyday which produced some of the top players in the country — high-profile players who played in Final Fours and national title games.
Jones averaged less than 14 points per game last year on an NIT team. Even with a standout year this year, which probably doesn’t get Jones on a Top 20 greatest Hogs of all-time list.
Instead of being mentioned with the likes of Sidney Moncrief, Corliss Wliiamson and Joe Kleine, as it stands now, Jones is more comparable to another Hogs junior college transfer — Martin Terry.
Terry turned in big scoring seasons in 1971-72 and 72-73 on unremarkable Lanny Van Eman teams. Even though he owns the record for the highest career season (28.3) and career (26.3) scoring averages he is not mentioned among the elite, either because Arkansas was 8-18 his junior seasons and 16-10 his senior year.
He was a two-time All-SWC selection, but only a third-team All-American.
It must also be stressed that there may be more chapters written to the Jones’ story at Arkansas. If somehow Arkansas pulls off a stunning run at the SEC Tournament, makes the NCAA Tournament and something happens there, this is an entirely different column.
Possible but not likely.
The other scenario is Jones returns for his senior year and leads this team to a big run next year. With three years in the program and more accolades that would definitely bolster his status. It’s uncertain what Jones or star guard Isaiah Joe will do.
Both could make a case for entering the NBA Draft although Joe is the better pro prospect. If both players return, next year could be special with introduction of one of the better recruiting classes in school history.
If Jones’ Hogs career does end after this year, I will remember his story. A guy who was playing in the shadow of his brother who played at Duke, and battled weight issues to compete at a high level in a very good league.
That has to mean something. Just not as much at a program such as Arkansas.