There are many things that Larry Steele, the University of Portland basketball coach, likes about Pepperdine freshman forward Dana Jones--and one thing he doesn't.
Steele said Jones is "a solid basketball player. He can score, rebound and play good defense. What I like more than anything else is how he fits on this team (Pepperdine). He doesn't detract from the other players.
"He has a great basketball personality. He works hard and has composure. He's just an outstanding freshman.
"The thing I don't like about him is that he is a freshman, and we have to face him for the next three years."
Jones, the Los Angeles City 3-A Division Player of the Year in 1990 when he led North Hollywood High to a City championship, is drawing similar comments from players, coaches and fans all over the West Coast Conference.
On Saturday, Pepperdine (17-8 overall, 11-1 in WCC play) won its 11th consecutive game, defeating Portland, 81-58, and clinching its first WCC championship since 1986. And Jones has played a large role in the team's success.
The top players for the Waves have been juniors Doug Christie, who leads the team in scoring, assists and steals, and Geoff Lear, the second-best scorer and leading rebounder and shot-blocker.
Christie is averaging 19.8 points, 4.8 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.2 blocks, and Lear, an All-WCC selection last season, is averaging 17.6 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.
But Jones has kept pace with the more experienced Lear and Christie and seems to have improved with every game, particularly in WCC play.
He is third in scoring with a 9.5 average, second in rebounding at 7.9 and second in steals at 1.6. He has also blocked a shot a game.
In 12 conference games, he leads the league in rebounding with an average of 10 a game and is averaging 11.8 points.
Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury said that Jones has "probably done better than I thought he'd do--and I thought he'd be real good.
"I didn't think he'd be quite as complete a player as he is--his maturity, the way he goes about business. He's responsible and even-tempered. He has the ability to maintain his poise and composure, resulting in pretty consistent efforts this year.
"He is our top defensive player in terms of consistency, which is very rare for a freshman. He has guarded UCLA's Tracy Murray, Arizona's Chris Mills and Terrell Lowery of Loyola Marymount. He has pretty nearly always drawn the best offensive player from the other team. He has great defensive concentration and focus and is very unselfish."
Jones' play was hampered early in the season because of a hip injury.
The injury caused Jones to miss a game and not start in four others. Otherwise, he has started 21 of Pepperdine's 25 games and has averaged 31 minutes a game. Only Lear with 36 minutes a game and Christie with 33 have played more.
Jones played center in high school, but is a small forward at Pepperdine.
"I spent my whole high school career with my back to the basket," he said. "Now I'm facing the basket, which is something I'm going to have to work on."
Asbury has other plans for Jones. He wants Jones to learn to play shooting guard. Jones is a likely successor for Christie at guard when the latter completes his eligibility after next season.
"His perimeter game is still in the refinement process," Asbury said. "He was kind of a low-post player in high school, a guy who would score down on the block. He has to improve his ball handling and perimeter shooting."
Jones is undaunted about the prospect of switching to a third position.
"I think that I will like playing guard, but I don't think that will happen till (Christie) graduates," he said.
Jones has been trying to develop an outside shot, which "is a whole lot better than it was in high school. Right now I just have to get my confidence up because I know I can make it. That's what practices are for."
He is not fazed by how rough the college game is although he has picked up some bumps and bruises in games this season.
In Pepperdine's conference opener against the University of San Diego, he was elbowed in the mouth and had to have three stitches in his lip.
Last week against Portland he scored 16 points in the first half. But about seven minutes into the second half, Jones and another player collided. He caught a knee in the thigh and was sidelined for much of the rest of the game.
The game is "a lot different from high school," he said. "In high school, I was bigger than most people. Here (in Division I) you can't let up for one minute. I know I have to go out there and play every night."
He may have been taller than other people in high school, but he was definitely not wider. In college, at 6-foot-6 and 190 pounds, he is shorter than most players and a lot skinnier.
He said that he lifts weights occasionally in an effort to add muscle to his frame and seldom misses a meal. "I'm the type of person who can eat a lot but won't gain weight," he said.
Jones was recruited by several colleges when he was in high school before he narrowed his choices to Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, California and Iowa.
"I chose Pepperdine for a number of reasons," he said. "First, it was close to home. Second, the home visits (by Wave coaches) were real good, and the coaches were straight with me. Third, I thought Pepperdine was a good place to go to for my college and basketball career."