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ADJUSTING TO Division I basketball can be difficult for even the most highly touted freshmen, but Baylor swingman Perry Jones III seems unfazed by the challenge. "I do feel as though I can handle anything," Jones says.
His mature perspective has been tested, however. On July 3 his friend Deion Jackson-Houston was killed after being struck by a train while trying to drive through an unprotected crossing.
"I struggled when it first happened," says Jones, who played with Jackson-Houston at Duncanville (Texas) High. "Losing someone close, who was like a brother, I know I can make it through the toughest times."
Although Baylor has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this fall—leading scorer LaceDarius Dunn was arrested for felony aggravated assault after allegedly striking his girlfriend (the case is still pending but Dunn will be eligible to play on Nov. 22 after serving a three-game suspension), and assistant coach Mark Morefield threatened potential recruit Hanner Perea with deportation if he didn't commit to Baylor (he committed to Indiana)—Jones's arrival is a source of optimism in Waco, not just for his talent but also for his demeanor.
"If you're the type of kid he is—one who [respects] seniority—it's hard to come in and have the attitude that you're going to take over," says coach Scott Drew, who will use Jones at every position, sometimes possession by possession. "We have to make him more selfish."
Jones made a good impression the first week of practice by running extra sprints with teammates who had lost various competitions.
"I want to show them that I'll always have their backs," Jones says. "That's what being a leader is. I just don't want to talk about it, I want to do something about it."
With all the negative chatter surrounding Baylor again, that may be just what the program needs.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Coach Scott Drew (8th season)