AP Sports Writer
Alvin Jones/Jon Babul Discuss The NCAA Tourney
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ATLANTA (AP) – For a fleeting moment, Paul Hewitt tries to envision Georgia Tech reaching the NCAA tournament without Alvin Jones. Then it’s back to reality.
“I don’t even want to think about that,” Hewitt said. “It would have extremely difficult to be where we are today. Alvin is our focal point offensively and defensively.”
Last spring, the 6-foot-11 center thought about giving up his senior year to enter the NBA draft. After three seasons with Bobby Cremins, Jones fretted about adjusting to a new coach – especially one like Hewitt, who was bringing in a vastly different system and promised to work his players like they’d never been worked before.
“I was close,” Jones said Tuesday. “I was definitely on the fence.”
But Jones decided to play one more season for the Yellow Jackets, who followed the big man all the way to the their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996.
Eighth-seeded Georgia Tech (17-12) opens Thursday in the West Regional against No. 9 St. Joseph’s (25-6), the regular-season champion in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Jones, who made the All-ACC first team, provides a comfort zone at both ends of the court. He is averaging career highs in points (13.6) and rebounds (10.3), while still finding time to swat away 3.4 shots per game. He is by far the leading shot-blocker in Georgia Tech history with 424 in his career.
“He makes it great for us guards because he’s so intimidating down low,” senior Shaun Fein said. “If you do get beat, you know Alvin is backing you up down low. We’re very confident about what he can do at the defensive end.”
While Cremins was content to use Jones as a defensive specialist, Hewitt knew he would need his center on offense. The new coach ordered extra shooting after practice and focused on improving Jones’ footwork in the low post.
Like the rest of his teammates, Jones had to improve his conditioning to play in Hewitt’s run-and-gun system. He now takes advantage of his surprising athletic ability sprinting up and down the court rather than just camping out under each basket.
Hewitt didn’t beg Jones to stay in school, but did tell him it would be a chance to improve his all-around skills and make himself more attractive to NBA teams.
“I knew I had a coach who would work me real hard,” Jones said. “I felt like that was all I needed, a coach who would work me hard and point out things to me.I knew by staying I would only get better.”
Though Jones is capable of frustrating offensive slumps, he still shot 48 percent from the field compared to 44 percent last season. His improved passing allowed him to cope better with double teaming.
On Thursday, the Yellow Jackets need Jones to be the kind of dominating force that he was against Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament. He had 20 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks in a victory that clinched an NCAA bid.
“I think they’re going to have trouble guarding Alvin down low,” Fein said. “If we’re knocking down our shots from the outside, we’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
These days, Jones has no regrets about making the NBA wait.
“This has definitely helped me, and I think I’ve helped Georgia Tech and coach Hewitt,” he said. “Maybe they would have done it without me, but it’s been great to be a part of this. I’m happy I made the decision to stay.”
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