Lamont "Momo" Jones came back from Tucson and the University of Arizona to be near his ailing grandmother. The NCAA granted him a waiver so he would not have to sit out a year. Now, he is a key contributor to the Iona Gaels.
Over the holidays I had a chance to sit down with Lamont and chat with him about his move to Iona and the season so far. On Sunday afternoon he scored 25 points, his best performance of the year, as the Gaels defeated Metro Atlantic Conference rival Loyola 74-63.
Mike Glover had another consistently strong game with a double-double of 20 points and 15 rebounds. Point Guard Scott Machado had 12 points and nine assists.
Junior transfer Taaj Ridley had a double-double himself with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Ridley was noticeably quiet in the loss to Manhattan and the Loyola game was an opportunity for him to assert himself.
The Gaels trailed the Hounds 36-31 at the half and needed a strong second half effort to avoid their second straight loss at home.
Kyle Smyth came off the bench for Sean Armand and played 34 minutes, but shot 1-3 from the floor all three-points shots. Armand started, but played just four minutes shooting 1-4 and sat the rest of the way.
The Gaels shot 50 percent on the afternoon, helped along by Mike Glover's 7-10 from his primary low-post spot in the Iona offense. The Gaels out rebounded Loyola 40-30, which is normally an area of concern for coach Tim Cluess.
The emergence of Taaj Ridley as a player on the boards in this game might have made the difference.
Lamont Jones shot 10 of 15 from the floor with 15 points coming in the second half. "Momo" made a key three-point play off a layup and foul with 14:25 left that tied the score at 46 all. The Gaels never trailed after that play.
It was a pleasure to sit down and get to know Lamont, a poised and thoughtful young man. He was well spoken, purposeful young man who is serious about his school work and playing the game of basketball.
Q. How was the transition for you from Arizona to Iona College in New Rochelle?
A. It was pretty easy, the team accepted me, the coaching staff accepted me, for the person I am and the player I am. Glov (Mike Glover) and Scott (Machado) in particular made it very easy for me to come in here and be the person I am and to fit in.
Q. Which position did you play for Arizona last year?
A. Last year I played strictly the one (guard).
Q. At Iona your scoring is increasing with every game, how has it been to fit in to the Gael offense?
A. It is something I love to do, scoring. Coming out of high school, I was a scorer. I had to learn to be a point guard. But coming here being able to play the off guard, being in the backcourt with Scotty, having Glov as a weapon down low, it kind of opens things up for all of us. Defenses can not really key on one person because it is the three of us.
Then you have the players who come off the bench, like Sean Armand, Kyle Smyth, and Ra'Shad James, who can give us productive minutes and score the ball. It has been a great experience and as time goes by, coach gives me more and more freedom, and I get more and more comfortable with being in this offense.
Q. What about playing defenses and the style of pressing coach Cluess likes to use?
A. It is a totally different thing. If the coach wants to press, we are going to press. You have to have heart to play defense, whether it is full-court pressure, half-court pressure or three-quarter pressure. Defense begins with your heart. If you have heart you can play defense no matter what the defense is. That is what I bring to this team, I have a lot of heart. At times I may not get the defenses that we play early in the season, but I have a lot of heart which makes up for me not always knowing the defenses.
Q. You played a long road trip in December winning six of seven, what did it take to play well on the road?
A. Heart, determination and togetherness. When you have heart, and you are together, and you are determined to do something that no one has ever done before, take on a road trip as brutal as that was, when you put those three things together and combine them, it is a tough thing to beat. And when your whole team has it, it is lovely.
I think that us going on that road trip really helped us. We came together more and more as the trips went on. We came together as brothers and close teammates than when we started the journey.
As of now, we are one. We are just one. It brought us together and it allowed us to play together, and have each other's backs on the road. At the Denver (game), we were down and had to come back to win, and at Richmond where we were up but not really safe and having to come out and in the second half and trust each other, play defense and score the ball and to get the win.
Q. You came east to be closer to your ailing grandmother. How is she doing?
A. She is doing fine.
Q. How the adjust been going from a big school like Arizona to a small school like Iona?
A. It has been great. Actually, it has been better for me. It is small, not a lot of people, not a lot of distractions. I could focus on basketball and school. I finished up this semester with a 3.1 (Grade Point Average), so that was great.
I was able to focus more and do my work and get to my teachers, when I needed to get to them. Everything is so close whereas I did not have to go on-line or do something to find a teacher. If I had a class that day, I was most likely able to see a teacher if I needed help with some work.
Our coaching staff and our academic staff do a great job helping us academically whether it is tutors, or in study hall every day. It has been great.
Q. How did you handle studying and being on the road?
A. It is just a matter of being focused and tuned in on the task at hand, and the task at hand is basketball and school. School comes first and basketball comes second. If I do not get good grades, then I am not going to be able to play. If I do not get good grades, then my mother is not going to be happy, neither is my grandmother or the rest of my family.
When you grow up and you look back and you have kids, and you have a wife, some people look back and say wow, man, I wish I had that degree. I don't want to be that person.
Q. What are your goals for basketball and the rest o the season?
A. My focus is just to win this game (the next game). Like I told my teammates and told my coaches, every game from here on out we are zero and zero. We have to look at it like every game is a championship game. We just got to take it as that. Tomorrow we are zero and zero and we are going to try and win a championship game tomorrow.
It was great to talk with Lamont "Momo" Jones. He is mature about responsibilities, his family, his school work and basketball. He and the Iona Gaels have a bright future together.
Ken Kraetzer covers Iona basketball for WVOX 1460 AM, WVOX.com and Sons of the American Legion Radio. His Twitter address is SAL50NY Radio.