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The Leading Lion

KJ Jones adjusts to new responsibilities

By Winners OnlyPublished 4 months ago 4 min read

(Photo caption: International senior KJ Jones (middle) advises his freshman teammate Pharoahe Zaire alongside senior DeAndre Johnson before the start of a game.)

Columbus International High School was one of the most talked about teams prior to the season as it has two of the area's top big men in the game.

Senior Kenyon "KJ" Jones and freshman Pharoahe Zaire both stand tall. Jones around 6-9 or 6-10 and Zaire somewhere between 6-8 and 6-9 bring a unique match-up that opponents must respect as the duo have obvious height and a diverse amount of talent.

It's been a slow start, as the International Lions (1-3) are very young outside of Jones and fellow senior DeAndre Johnson, who is a 6-4 smooth playing guard with athleticism and the ability to shoot from long range. The rest of the team's starting line-up including Zaire, with sophomore guards Michael Tucker and Cahleel Willis are first year varsity players. One of the first players off of the bench is also a first year varsity guard in sophomore Abdoulaye Coulibaly.

After his first three seasons, Jones' role has grown drastically as he now has to play inside and out of the post. So far he is having his best individual year. As a freshman he averaged 14.9 points, he suffered a sophomore slump with an average of 10.1 points and bounced back last year with a scoring clip of 17.6 points per game. After the first four games of the year, Jones is averaging 25.3 points.

Jones' most recent effort was a 36-point performance where he tied the single game scoring record for International. Prior to his team's third game, a 68-29 win over Cristo Rey on Dec. 14, Jones sat in the stands at his school, sporting a hoodie in a Nike sweatsuit. "I have to keep everybody encouraged," Jones said. "Everybody gets down on themselves because we're losing obviously. Nobody wants to lose. I don't wanna lose but as long as they keep their confidence everybody will roll."

The star player reflected on the start of his career, when thinking about his younger teammates. "My first couple of games, I played terrible," he said. "I had seven [points], six and then five. Then we played some [lesser teams] and we turnt up and I thought I was that man, but in reality [I wasn't]."

His first year varsity experience is similar to his young teammates. They struggled out of the gate with a 51-42 loss to West, which many area experts predicted would be an International win. Jones and his rookie front-court mate Zaire combined for 34 of those points in game one.

They followed that with a hard 58-27 loss to defending City League champ Northland, where Jones scored 18 of those points as Zaire struggled offensively with just three on 1-9 shooting. Like three years ago, Jones and his young teammates got off against a lesser team in Cristo Rey putting up a season high 68 points and surrendering a season low 29. Jones posted 18 in that game, his senior comrade, Johnson had his best night of the season so far with 20 points. Many of the younger guards played more of a contributing role on the defensive and offensive side.

As high as the young guards were after their first win, the following day was a hard crash back to reality as the more experience Linden-McKinley Panthers entered International's gym with a starting line-up that featured five seniors. The undersized Panthers struggled with Jones and Zaire who scored 36 and 19 respectively to combine for 55 points. The problem is Linden-McKinley dominated the guard play, winning the game 82-67 as four Lions guards were limited to just 12 points between themselves.

While points hasn't been hard to come by for Jones this season, he admits that leading a team for the first time is one of his biggest challenges. "I never really had to lead a team," he said. "I always had a talented guard or somebody older than me in front of me. It's different. Now I have to change how I play. I used just post-up real quick or hit a [mid-range shot]. Now I have to get the ball and see what's going on with the play. It's a new environment. It's different."

On Tuesday, Dec. 19, International, coached by Mike Bell, faces 0-6 Whetstone, which despite its record will provide a challenge. The Lions have struggled to defend the perimeter and Whetstone, coached by Troy Mundy, has a talented scorer in Noah Knostman, who is looking to feast on any holes that he finds in the International defense.

The game will take place at Whetstone in Columbus, Ohio, and is set for a 7 p.m. tip-off.


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