College basketball: Where does former USC recruit Lamont 'MoMo' Jones' exit at Arizona leave the Wildcats?
Monday night's news that Arizona guard Lamont "MoMo" Jones, the Wildcats' brash floor general during their run last season to the NCAA West Regional final, is transferring shocked many who keep close tabs on Pacific 10 (or 12) Conference hoops, along with an incoming teammate.
Not only did the Wildcats lose their second-leading scorer, who cited family reasons for his departure, but his exit from the team that won the regular season league title last season and finished with a 30-8 record also comes not long after Derrick Williams' early exit to enter the 2011 NBA draft.
Williams, a sophomore stud forward and All-American who averaged 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds last season, will likely be a top-five pick. Many knew he'd leave for NBA millions well before he did.
That wasn't the case with Jones, a junior who averaged 9.7 points and 2.4 assists.
To be sure, Jones was expected to be part of a crowded backcourt next season with a slew of incoming freshmen, but instead of facing that challenge he'll be heading back to New York, where he is from and nearly returned to when he was homesick as a freshman, possibly to St. John's, if anonymous sources are right.
His absence leaves Arizona with 12 scholarship players next season, which is one fewer than what the NCAA typically allows but is in accordance with a self-imposed penalty Arizona issued.
So the scholarships may be in order, but with Jones, a former USC signee like Williams, gone, where does that leave the Wildcats in a not-so-great league that looks to be pretty shabby next season, too?
Considering that if you count both seniors and players who left early to go pro that the league has lost its top seven scorers and eight of the 10 first-team all-conference selections, Arizona is not in as bad a shape as it might seem. It should be back to Square One next season, but so should the league.
Even then, Arizona does return guards Kyle Fogg, Brendon Lavender, Jordin Mayes and the heralded duo of incoming freshmen guards Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson, of whom Arizona Coach Sean Miller gushed recently, "I don't know if there's two more talented young guards in the country."
(Note: There is skepticism that Turner, a top-10 national recruit, will be eligible to play college basketball because he comes from Quality Education Academy in North Carolina, a charter school the NCAA is reportedly scrutinizing for its legitimiacy as an academic institution.)
With those players, and possibly Turner, Arizona should compete with UCLA, Washington and California, who all return key players, to be a top contender for a league title. At worst, the Wildcat lineup is mid-tier quality.
As an aside, Jones' departure deprives reporters of a lively quote source.
Here's a collection of some of his finest comments from the Arizona Daily Star, plus a classic spoken in the third person after some late-game heroics in a close win over California in February:
"To other people, it may be something new. People may be like, 'I want to watch it again, because MoMo put on a show.' But to me, it's just another day in the life of MoMo Jones."
-- Baxter Holmes
Photo: Lamont Jones. Credit: Stephen Dunn / Getty Images