By Brian Mull
Big South Correspondent
Trips to the gym became routine for Radford point guard Carlik Jones this summer. The Big South Conference’s preseason Player of the Year shot 3-pointers until he made 500 each morning before class and returned after the Highlanders’ workout in the afternoon to reach the same goal again.
Radford graduate assistant Brett Gilbert often served as Jones’ rebounder during the sessions, firing passes to help the Highlanders’ junior floor leader refine his stroke and gain confidence in his ability to catch-and-shoot beyond-the-arc.
Jones credits Gilbert and the entire Radford staff for the role they played in the offseason development he hopes to put on display when the Highlanders face in-state rival Liberty Friday night in the season opener.
Of course, everyone at Liberty doesn’t remember the 3-pointers Jones has missed. They remember the one he made against the Flames at the buzzer in the 2018 Big South Championship game that sent the Highlanders to the NCAA Tournament and guaranteed Jones lifetime legendary status on the Radford campus.
Jones also made a pair of clutch 3-pointers last season at Hampton, banking one in at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime and adding the game winner. His first collegiate game-winner was a jumper at High Point that gave the Highlanders a 78-76 OT win on Jan. 24, 2018.
But his career 3-point numbers are less impressive. He’s hit just 58 of 207 trey attempts (28 percent) in 67 games and struggled to 24.7 percent overall last season (28.3 clip in conference) when he was a first-team All-Big South selection.
Working with the coaching staff, Jones identified a flaw in the placement of his guide (left) hand during the shot which created an inconsistent release. It’s an ongoing thing.
“Sometimes it takes five or six years before you really become the shooter you want to be,” Radford coach Mike Jones said. “The start that he’s had at the end of last season and where he is now, we’re very happy with where he is. I think he’s very happy with where he is, but there’s still
work to be done, going into games having the confidence if he misses a few to still stay on the same path.”
According to sports-reference.com, Jones was one of only eight Division I players to average at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists per game last season. That versatility and production earned him an invite to the CP3 Elite Guard Camp in Winston-Salem, N.C., last summer where he gleaned information from the camp’s founder and namesake, 15-year NBA veteran Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Jones said the experience battling against the nation’s best guards and conversations with Paul opened his mind. “Me and coach Jones have had multiple talks about putting up shots,” he said. “Ever since I went to the camp I’ve been motivated to work on my shot.”
With 181 assists and 84 turnovers in 2018-19, Jones has controlled a Highlanders’ attack that improved to 79th nationally in offensive efficiency last season after ranking 212th the prior season. His 2.2 assist /turnover ratio was second in the Big South.
Earlier in his career Jones fought to remain positive and control his emotions on the floor. Paul told him he must remain calm and patient because teammates feed off of a point guard’s demeanor.
“As a point guard you have the ball in your hand and control the game,” Jones said. “You don’t let anybody speed you up. Be yourself and play with confidence. If you play with confidence and believe in yourself, you’ll be fine."”
Jones, the 2017-18 Big South Freshman of the Year, has shown the resolve required to improve
throughout his career. He redshirted his first year on campus to focus on academics. He’s added 40 pounds of muscle to his slight, wiry 6-foot-1 frame since entering college. He tries to model his game after other slightly built NBA stars such as Kyrie Irving and C.J. McCollum.
Becoming a consistent shooting threat is a logical piece in the progression for Jones, who was named to the watch list for the Lou Henson Award, given annually to the nation’s best mid-major player.
“As far as I’m concerned we’re still going to encourage him to shoot it,” Radford coach Jones said. ”The day that he becomes a good shooter is the day that he becomes very, very difficult to stop.”
The Highlanders’ coach understands that progress his point guard makes on the floor this season not only helps his team reach its goal of winning the conference title and returning to the NCAA
Tournament, it also upgrades Jones’ chances to play and thrive at the professional level.
”The challenge for him is to be a two-way player, be as good defensively as he is offensively,” Coach Jones said. “Wherever he goes after college and he certainly has that potential, they’re going to want him to run his team, think about his teammates, be less focused on himself, be able to control his emotions and be able to make guys do what he wants them to do. I told him that this year is a great year for him to work on those things and he’s embraced them so far.”