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MC men's basketball: The rise of Dominic Jones

Dominic Jones' teammates are still talking about his dunk against West Hills last week.

The Merced College sophomore swingman is known for his highlight-reel plays, but anytime you "posterize" someone, well...

It tends to make an impression.

According to Blue Devils power forward Nate Williams' recount of the play, West Hills guard Guiressi Grimes may never forget it.

With MC in its 2-2 press, Jones stole the ball and was headed to the basket.

Always looking for an opportunity to show off his leaping ability, Jones apparently didn't even see Grimes -- who was blocking his path --- until he was already in the air.

It made little difference.

Jones powered home a two-handed slam, bringing the crowd and his teammates to their feet.

It was the kind of high-energy play that Jones loves.

But as much as the play accentuated Jones' natural ability, it also exemplified how far he's come in a few months' time.

As much as he wanted to, Jones didn't scream.

He didn't taunt anyone.

He took a moment to enjoy himself and simply got back to business.

Things weren't always quite that way, and Jones admits it.

"I couldn't understand why I couldn't do the things I knew I was capable of doing," Jones said. "Coach (Bill) Russell has always been telling me that I just need to stay focused, but I didn't listen.

"I'd get lost in the emotions of the game. I used to think that high-energy plays were what basketball was all about.

"It's still tough, but I do a better job keeping myself in check."

Jones wears his emotions like the sweatband on the back of his head, and Russell said it didn't take much to set him off.

"If somebody fouled him hard or he didn't get a call he thought he deserved, he'd get completely out of his game," Russell said.

"The hardest thing to teach him was that basketball wasn't all or nothing -- that even when things don't go your way, you have to play through it."

Acknowledging he was a poor teammate, Jones sulked on the bench last year behind all-conference forward A'Daeron Duncan.

Angry and frustrated about his lack of playing time, Jones struggled to figure out how he'd created such a poor situation.

And he was honest with himself.

"I regret how I was," Jones said. "Who knows what we could have done if I was a better teammate?

"I've done a lot of things that could have gotten me kicked off of the team, and I'm grateful that my coach and teammates stuck with me."

His fellow Devils are equally grateful.

Jones seemed to "grow up" just prior to MC's game with Modesto Junior College at the end of December, and he's been a different player ever since.

"I realized that when I lost my cool, I looked like a baby," Jones said. "I was a whiner and nobody likes a whiner."

With a new self-awareness, Jones has helped MC cope with the loss of injured point guard Edwin Opoku.

Complementing proven scorers Justin Sparks (9.8 points per game) and Julius Cheeks (16.2), Jones' point production has steadily risen to 9.6 per game.

Jones also leads the team with 5.7 rebounds per game and is second on the Blue Devils with 11 blocks.

All that improvement culminated with a season-high 20-point performance on Wednesday against Columbia.

Perhaps most impressive of all, Jones has battled with a sprained thumb on his shooting hand since the end of November.

"There was a lot of pressure on D-Jones' shoulders to step up when Edwin got hurt," MC freshman Brakim McClain said. "He's done a good job helping out Justin and Cheeks.

"He's showed us a lot of intestinal fortitude to play that hard with an injured thumb.

"He makes you want to play harder."

It's not likely anyone would have said that about Jones a year ago.

Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports writer. He can be reached at 385-2476 or via e-mail at slynch@mercedsun-star.com.

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