Thoughts on the departure of Chris Jones

UNT point guard Chris Jones finished his career with the Mean Green ranked among the top 10 players in program history despite leaving before playing his senior season at the school. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

UNT coach Tony Benford confirmed this afternoon what had been rumored for a while: Chris Jones is transferring to another school to play his senior season.

And with that, one of the stranger careers for a standout UNT athlete came to an end.

Make no mistake. It was a standout career. Jones ranks third in UNT history in steals (127) and sixth in assists (282). That’s without playing a single game as a senior and missing significant time in his freshman and sophomore years.

Jones’ best year came in the one semester he played as a freshman, when he averaged 14.1 points before missing the second semester because he was academically ineligible.

By the time he came back a year later, Johnny Jones had left for LSU and been replaced by Benford.

Jones never seemed to fit in Benford’s system from the start. When he first got to UNT and often looked for his shot. Benford asked Jones to be more of a facilitator. Jones had 81 assists in 19 games as a freshman for an average of 4.3 a game. It wasn’t like he wasn’t setting other players up for good shots.

Jones’ average dipped to 9.2 points a game as a sophomore, when he averaged 4.6 assists a game.

It certainly didn’t help matters when Jones went down with a broken foot in a game against Western Kentucky and missed 16 games.

Jones put up 7.5 points a game and tallied 127 assists last season, an average of 4.1 a game. He hit a game-winner to push UNT past Florida International and hit the free throws that pushed UNT’s Conference USA tournament game against Rice into overtime and then scored the game-winning points at the line.

Despite those bright spots, it seemed like Jones had some reservations about where things were headed in his career late last season when I talked with him for a story about returning to form after missing most of the previous year.

“I catch myself thinking about the future, which messes me up,” Jones said back then. “I am trying to get away from that and am starting to play better because I am not thinking so much.”

Jones didn’t respond to the message I left him, but I did talk to Benford. The story that will be in tomorrow’s paper will be up soon.

Benford took the high road and wished Jones luck, just like I expected him to.

He also expressed confidence in the batch of guards UNT will have next season.

Even so, one has to wonder if UNT isn’t going to miss its two primary ball handlers from last season in Jones and Alzee Williams, who graduated.

As far as next season goes, UNT is really relying on those newcomers, especially Todd Eaglin, a point guard from Tyler JC. UNT has several other guards coming in, including Greg White-Pittman, but Eaglin is the only one who is a straight up point guard.

UNT could bring another point guard. Benford said UNT is still actively recruiting.

As of now, UNT has a several talented wing players, a couple of combo guards and some solid 6-7 to 6-8 guys.

What it doesn’t have is a lot of proven Division I players outside of Jordan Williams, Maurice Aniefiok, T.J. Taylor, Colin Voss and Armani Flannigan — and Flannigan is a stretch.

That is why losing Jones seems like such a blow.

His career didn’t play out the way it appeared it might his freshman season, but he was always solid and sometimes a whole lot better than that.

One just hopes that while Jones’ career ends on a high note, even though it won’t reach that point at UNT.

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