DeVante’ Jones just looked like he was behind.
Early in the season the graduate transfer guard was constantly in foul trouble, too often a step slow and overall looked like he didn’t possess the ability to run the offense.
But, lately things have been different.
Jones had eight assists and zero turnovers against Nebraska and was a lone bright spot in a loss to Minnesota, putting up 14 points. Saturday, in the Wolverines’ win against Southern Utah, he compiled his best performance to date in a Michigan uniform.
Against the Thunderbirds, Jones looked like the guy everyone thought he would be when he transferred from Coastal Carolina. After all, Jones averaged 19 points per game last year and was the Sun Belt player of the year.
Jones was Michigan’s offense early on in the game. He scored seven of its first 11 points, but more importantly looked calm on the ball. He broke down the defense with calculated dribbles and if his shot wasn’t there he found one of his teammates for an open one.
“(The game) opens up a lot when he’s doing that,” Collins said of Jones’ offensive aggression. “The defense starts to focus on him and they start being in scramble mode and that’s when we get a lot easier and open shots.”
Jones’ shots from beyond the arc were falling — he was three-for-three on the day from distance. Most of all he just radiated confidence. He ended the game with 13 points, six assists and just one turnover.
Jones looked like the guy that could run the Wolverines’ offense.
Even at times when that hasn’t seemed to be the case, his ability to remain calm in the face of adversity has helped spur his emergence.
“Me personally, I’m just even keeled,” Jones said. “I’ve been in college for a while now, so I know how this stuff goes.”
Because of Jones’ maturity, he was able to weather the storm. The game has slowed down, he’s gotten control of his initial excitement and he’s spent time meditating.
Jones has even reached out to point guards of Michigan’s past, like Zavier Simpson and Mike Smith.
“He just told me to slow down, breathe,” Jones said of his conversation with Smith. “You can’t do everything in one game, it’s a whole season. It’s a process.”
Smith’s story with the Wolverines shares a lot of similarities with Jones, at least the beginning. Smith was another graduate transfer guard who scored a lot of points in a lesser league. Smith, of course, ended the season as a reliable point guard who ran the offense with confidence and rhythm. He left big shoes for Jones to fill.
Whether or not Jones can make a similar jump that Smith did and flourish in his role as starting point guard for Michigan is yet to be seen. But, one thing is for sure, Jones is going to continue to focus on himself and remain even keeled.
That’s why Michigan coach Juwan Howard has stood by Jones, maintaining his minutes and spot in the starting lineup.
“He’s accepted the coaching and the teaching that’s come his way from either myself, coach Eisley or others,” Howard said of Jones. “He’s taken ownership at times when he’s made mistakes… He’s never deflected, pointed the finger or made excuses. I respect the guy.
“And I support him.”
He’s that type of player, that type of person. That’s why Jones is where he is, and that’s why he still has the opportunity to be the player that everyone thought he could be when he came to Michigan.
“It’s just,” Jones said, before pausing. “I have a lot of confidence right now… I know what I can do.”