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Jones chooses Rider, will sit out first year

Former Cavalier hopes to demonstrate

Former Cavalier guard Jeff Jones, who announced April 6 that he was leaving the Virginia basketball program, finalized his decision to transfer to Rider this past Monday. The junior will finish out the semester at Virginia and join the Broncs in the fall, citing his relationship and trust with the coaching staff as his main reason for choosing Rider.

Jones' initial decision to leave Virginia came as a surprise to many, especially considering the guard's performance in place of suspended guard Sylven Landesberg during Virginia's final three games of the season. Jones averaged 15 points per game during the three-game stretch, including a team-high 15 against the Blue Devils in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. Following Landesberg's decision to leave the University and put his name in the NBA draft, Jones was expected to be a starter in the 2010-11 season.

In the days after announcing he would join fellow departees Tristan Spurlock and Landesberg, Jones was initially reticent to discuss the rationale behind his decision to leave Virginia, only saying he wanted to find a school where he could "fulfill his dream." Yesterday, however, he was more forthright. Making clear that neither playing time nor the aforementioned departures caused his decision, Jones indicated he felt somewhat limited in his offensive opportunities during his time as a Cavalier.

"I don't wanna say nobody stopped my game from doing anything, but you know, guys said that I was a great shooter at Virginia, a spot-up shooter, coming off screens, etc.," Jones said. "But I feel like at Rider I can show my whole arsenal and my complete game that I always feel I had."

But Jones added that he did not have any intentions of leaving during the season, when he was solely focused on playing basketball and trying to win games.

"After that ACC tournament Duke game - in my mind, I was coming back - I was coming back to Virginia," Jones said.

Indeed, Jones flashed signs of his completeness during Virginia's final three games, becoming more aggressive with the ball and finding his way to the free throw line for 15 attempts. After the season ended, however, coach Tony Bennett held player meetings with each individual on the team. Jones declined to comment on his meeting with Bennett.

"I went to my family and we discussed [the meeting], felt my future out, and we thought it was best for me to move on," Jones said, emphasizing that his family let him make his own decision.

In a University press release about Jones' decision to leave the program, Bennett said he was "surprised" but not "shocked." Just six days earlier, Bennett held his final teleconference with the media. He discussed the departures of Landesberg and Spurlock, adding that he did not anticipate that any other players would leave, even though he was assembling a large incoming recruiting class. Bennett also outlined what was discussed during the meetings with player.

"It's important for me as a coach to establish what's gonna be important for the future, and these are the guidelines I have," Bennett said March 25. "'Here's where I see you and I wanna hear where you see yourself - does this fit? Do you see yourself being a part of this?' Because as long as I've been doing this, if you're halfway in ... if you're wondering, it's gonna be hard because you're gonna go through hard times in a season ... If you're not sure you wanna be there and not totally committed to it, it'll really be challenging, and usually that doesn't work out. So we just try to establish that in those meetings."

Jones apparently was not fully committed to the program. But perhaps what is most perplexing for Virginia fans is why an upperclassman like Jones would decide to transfer, as NCAA regulations require that he sit out a full year before he can play for the Broncs.

"A lot of people say that, you know, one year is like a bad year and it's gonna suck - me sitting out - but I feel like if you use that year wisely and really shore up your weaknesses and sharpen your game up, I think it'll be helpful," Jones said, adding that he will be able to practice with the team during his first year. "I'll work hard that one year and come back that next year and be an even better player."

Jones, a native of Chester, Pa., said he knew Rider coach Tommy Dempsey during his high school days at Monsignor Bonner. Jones added that Dempsey and the Rider coaching staff reached out to him "with open arms" after he announced he was leaving Virginia. Furthermore, Jones does not believe there is a significant difference between playing in the ACC and the MAAC.

"I think basketball is basketball; I think Division I is Division I," Jones said. "A lot of people say low-major, high-major, mid-major and things like that, but you really don't know who's labeling these guys - mid-major, low-major, 'cause you know Butler goes all the way to the national championship."

That being said, the decision to leave Virginia was not easy for a man who shared great memories - both on and off the court - with fellow rising seniors Mike Scott, Mustapha Farrakhan, Will Sherrill and junior Sammy Zeglinski, who redshirted his first year.

Still, Jones found a solution to ease the pain of leaving.

"Mike [Scott] came up to me, asked me permission to get the jersey, and I said, 'Yeah, put it [to] some use,'" Jones said. "So 23 will still be running out there on the court next season."

And although Jones's days as a member of the Virginia men's basketball team are done, his connection to the University is indelible.

"I would like to thank all the U.Va. fans who came up to me, supported me throughout this whole process of me transferring," he said. "It was really supportive, and I would like to thank them for all their encouraging words - it really meant a lot. That's what the U.Va. family is all about"

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