By Zach James Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — Jalen Jones is on top of the throne. The Clinton senior had to work his way to get there, but now he leaves the Gateway area with more goals set in mind — and the Clinton Herald Boys Basketball Player of the Year honor.
“I owe everything to my teammates,” Jones said. “They were all fun to play with, and to play with a player of Brady’s (Ernst) talent was also fun to play with.”
Jones and the River Kings had a 13-9 record, but they also had a tough non-conference, regular-season and postseason schedule.
“I thought we started the season well, and that got us the motivation that we can play with anyone,” Jones said.
Jones led the Kings with 19 points a game and amassed about seven rebounds a game. His 19 points a game was 10th-best in Class 4A, and was in the top five among those 10 in made field goals. Jones also had a better free-throw percentage than the state’s leading scorer — Jones was at 76 percent while Terrance Bush, Jr. of Des Moines North made 73 percent of his free throws.
The 6-foot-6 River King also became the first Clinton player to score 1,000 points. He did it on a fourth-quarter free throw on Feb. 14 in a 67-59 loss to Davenport Assumption. He scored 30 points that night, just three off his personal best he attained in the early part of the 2012-13 season.
After Jones had crossed the 1,000 line, he was relieved to get it accomplished and focus on making a strong postseason run.
“I was reminded of it every day in school,” Jones said of the feat. “I knew people were talking about it, and not just in school, but in the entire town. I was very surprised when I knew I was going to become the first; it’s a huge accomplishment.”
Clinton coach Nick Lawrence talked with Jones about how to handle the pressures that come with breaking a barrier, but all Jones cared about was winning.
“We had talked about the 1,000 points and breaking the all-time record before the season started,” Lawrence said. “Jalen knew what was coming. He doesn’t place much emphasis on that, however, because he is such an unselfish kid.”
Jones became the school’s all-time leading scorer six days before reaching 1,000 points as he again made a free throw on Feb. 8 in the fourth quarter to pass Dick Farwell’s 965-point total that had stood for nearly 60 years.
When Lawrence saw Jones play for the first time, he knew that Clinton was going to have a special player.
“His game was as fluid then as it is now,” Lawrence said. “I was impressed with the fact he knew how to play the game; he was going to be talented.”
Lawrence even believes Jones might be one of the best players ever from this area.
“He makes things look so effortless,” Lawrence said, “and what he can do on the floor is crazy at times.”
Despite doing the things that made Jones the player he was, there were times where Lawrence asked Jones to be a guard.
“He grew up really fast,” Lawrence said. “A couple years ago, we had asked him to be the primary ball-handler, and he accepted the challenge because he’s always team first.”
“I knew I had to step up,” Jones said. “I wanted to be a leader, and if that’s what they needed me to do, I’ll do it.”
Jones will head west to the Summit League, which is NCAA Division I, and play for the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks. Jones committed before the season started, and one of the reasons why is how hard the Mavericks coaching staff was recruiting him.
“Omaha was one of the first schools to look at him, and I think Jalen wanted to go a place where felt wanted,” Lawrence said. “The coaches were really caring about him, and one of the only home visits that we had were from Coaches (Tyler) Erwin and (head coach Derrin) Hansen.”
Lawrence believes that Jones can thrive at the collegiate level.
“It’s all basketball, all the time,” he said. “He’ll have all the necessities around him to make him a better basketball player, and as demanding as it is, I think Jalen can unquestionably handle it.”
“That’s what my focus is going to be 24/7 — to get better,” Jones said. “I’ll start eating better, hitting the weight room, and do whatever I can to make my skills more refined.
“Omaha is really growing, and it’s a nice place to live; I’m really excited to go,” Jones said.
Jones is expected to play the small forward position at Omaha. He will depart for Omaha in June.
Meanwhile, for the River Kings, Lawrence said things won’t change much in terms of scheme.
“We’re going to try and play even faster,” he said. “We’re a team who didn’t turn the ball over much last year, and we have some athletic kids, so if we can push it, we certainly will.”