TAMPA — Dominique Jones is scoring at a ridiculous clip, leading USF to unprecedented Big East success and picking up national praise, so the question is this: How can he sustain the high level of play or somehow even improve on it?
Bulls coach Stan Heath is comforted by the knowledge that it's much easier to motivate Jones than it is to stop him on the court.
"He likes challenges. He really responds to them," said Heath, whose Bulls take a three-game winning streak into tonight's matchup at No. 7 Georgetown. "Like today, I can say, 'Hey, you've got to play Austin Freeman. He's the best shooting guard in the league this year.' He'll respond to that. He'll believe that. It inspires him."
Jones might be the nation's best shooting guard. He led the country in scoring in January, averaging 29.5 points in eight games. He has won back-to-back Big East player of the week honors, after a school-record 46 points in an overtime win at Providence, 28 in an overtime win against Seton Hall and 37 in a home win over then-No. 17 Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Aside from three straight wins, he's not satisfied with his play.
"I know what I want to do in life, and I know that I want to win, and that's enough motivation right there," said Jones, a 6-foot-4 junior from Lake Wales. "I still haven't done what I need to do. I still haven't given South Florida all I've got. I still haven't taken us to the (NCAA) Tournament. When I leave here, I want this to be a winning program, where we'll always be a contender, in the Big East and the nation."
Jones has made a splash with his scoring, but he has improved everywhere, averaging more rebounds, assists, steals and blocks than last season. His shooting percentages are up, too — field goals, free throws, 3-pointers.
"I used to think, 'Okay, I'm going to go out and try to get 25 a game, 30 a game,' " Jones said. "Now I look at it as, 'Never waste a possession. Never let my defender get a break. Always take the best shot I can take, go at them all game.' My goal is to get 50 points a game, 20 rebounds, 20 assists."
That extends to defense, too. In the closing minutes of the win over Pittsburgh, Heath asked Jones to defend the Panthers' Gilbert Brown, who was playing well. Ultimately, what Jones wants are victories, and it's in that area he and USF have made the most progress this season.
"I think he's chasing different things," Heath said. "Not just personal. He told me the other day, 'I like doing things that haven't been done before as a team.' He likes to prove you wrong."
Doubters are getting harder to find for Jones, who has picked up national admirers. A few weeks ago, Jones could make a case for first-team All-Big East, but at his current pace, he could wind up making All-America teams.
"He's such a hungry scorer, but he's not a selfish player," said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who has watched at least parts of four USF games this season. "It's been interesting to see him progress from a volume shooter to a more efficient scorer. He's getting to the line more, finding other ways to win."
Indeed, Jones has raised his scoring average by four points a game from last year, and yet he's averaging fewer shot attempts.
For all that success, Jones might need to get better to succeed at the next level. Check out ESPN.com's 2010 NBA Draft rankings, which include underclassmen, and Jones is No. 77 — the 14th-best shooting guard available. "Second round to undrafted," it reads. Now you've gone and motivated him, again.
"This is good, but this is not my goal. My goal is to be an NBA All-Star," Jones said. "When I get there, I won't be satisfied, but I'll feel like I've done something. I'm just getting going."
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com and at (813) 226-3346.