By Jack Williams
Georgia Tech’s sudden surge back to basketball prominence under new coach Paul Hewitt has been sparked by big center Alvin Jones, who makes a habit of swatting opponents’ shots into about the fifth row.
At last count, Jones, a 6-11 senior from Lakeland, Fla., has a total of 55 blocked shots in the Jackets’ 14 games this season and a school record career total of 379. Tech fans keep count of his blocks at home games with signs marked B in much the same way baseball fans record Ks when there’s a Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson on the mound.
Jones and his Tech teammates are 9-5 overall and 1-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference after stunning ninth-ranked Virginia, 73-68, at Charlottesville Tuesday night. The Jackets now really shoot for the stars against sixth-ranked Wake Forest here Saturday night. The game starts at Alexander Memorial Coliseum at 8 p.m.
Defense always has been the name of Alvin Jones’ game. “I always tell the new players on the team ‘If you want to start, learn to play great defense. That’s the secret to it all in basketball.'”
And make no mistake, Jones practices what he preaches. One recent example: in a loss to power-packed North Carolina, Jones’ defense mainly was responsible for holding the Tar Heels’ touted seven-foot center Brendan Haywood scoreless.
Jones’ eight blocked shots so rattled Harvard in a December game that the Crimson Coach Frank Sullivan devoted most of his post-game media conference to a discussion of Jones’ talents. “We simply don’t see monster shot-blocking like that in the Ivy League,” Sullivan said. “Jones was the catalyst in this Georgia Tech win. If he can be as dominant as he was in this game, obviously Georgia Tech can be a factor in the Atlantic Coast Conference race.”
Shot-blocking always has come natural to Jones, a player who has a standing reach of 110 inches (nine feet, two inches) and a 35-inch vertical jump. As a high schooler competing in a Holiday Tournament in Raleigh, N.C., he had 44 blocked shots in four games.
Jones, however, feels the new fast-paced system and conditioning program installed by Coach Hewitt have enhanced his defensive ability.
“I am in the best condition of my life,” Jones said. “Our early conditioning program was intense. There is no question this has made me an even stronger and better shot-blocker.
“Also, the style of play gives me a chance to show how fast I am. When we run, I can hold my own with any of the guys on the team. I can run faster and for a longer periods of time than ever before.
“I also am happy that the new coaching staff is making a big effort to get the ball inside to me. We have a number of plays designed just for that. I think this emphasis has opened up our outside shooting game. When they collapse on me, our three-point shooters get better shots.”
Jones also excels in rebounding and has become a much-improved offensive performer. This season, he averages 13.7 points and 9.4 rebounds a game. He passed the 1,000-point mark in career scoring early this season and has a chance to become only the second Tech player to record 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Malcolm Mackey hit that double jackpot in the early 1990s.
The Jacket senior said this week he feels Tech is making a strong run in its bid for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. “That has been our goal since the start of play,” he said. “Obviously, the win over a Top 10 team at Virginia gives us a big boost.”
Jones also points to Tech wins over UCLA and Kentucky as important steps. “It was great to beat outstanding programs like UCLA and Kentucky in the same week,” he said. “Both those schools have a lot of tradition and incidentally, a lot of talent. I think in those two games, we were more hungry. We out-worked UCLA and Kentucky in those particular games.”
The Tech center thinks the Jackets’ new players, Halston Lane, Marvin Lewis and Robert Brooks, have given the team a boost. “I have been particularly impressed by the play of Halston,” he said. “He is a no-fear type of guy. He has been able to maintain his good play through all the early schedule.”
Although Tech managed to upset Virginia, Jones knows well every ACC game will be a new and difficult challenge. “The conference is very strong,” he said, “but maybe not quite as strong, in my opinion, as it was my freshman year.”
It was because of the ACC reputation that Jones picked Georgia Tech over Florida when he was a heavily-recruited star at Kathleen High School in Lakeland. “I wanted to stay somewhat close to home and to play in a good conference. That’s why I picked Georgia Tech,” he said.
Jones says he has had a wonderful experience at Tech, where he majors in management. “I have met a lot of beautiful people in Atlanta,” he said, “and have enjoyed myself here. I am not sure, however, that this is where I want to raise a family and live permanently.”
Jones comes from a very athletic family. His father, Alvin, Jr., played four years of basketball at Gardner Webb College in North Carolina and later played in Luxembourg, where Alvin, III was born. His older sister, Keisha, now plays basketball at Dartmouth and his younger sister, Grace, is on the volleyball team at Marshall.
Alvin has his sights set on a career in pro basketball. His sights are set on something else, too-a successful end to his Georgia Tech career and a return to the NCAA Tournament where the Yellow Jackets have been so many times in the past.