October 16, 2007

Mookie on Decision & where RU & St. John's Fit

Mookie Jones stepped up to a podium Tuesday afternoon in the Peekskill High School library and made the announcement many have been expecting for a few days now, if not months.

"It was a hard decision but I had to come to one, and the school that I'm going to is Syracuse University," the 6-foot-6 Jones said to a small gathering of teammates, coaches, family and friends. Jones, who made his official visit to Syracuse this past weekend, chose the Orange over DePaul, Marquette, Rutgers and St. John's, cancelling officials to the last two schools after his Syracuse visit.

"I was just trying to keep it a secret," he said. "As soon as I walked on that campus, I just knew it was for me. Just being on that court and seeing the crowd and the fans. I talked to the professors. They were great. I know they're going to help me get through and that's where I see myself at."

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim personally recruited Jones, even coming to the Westchester County school and speaking at the spring sports banquet, at which he reportedly spoke hypothetically about what he looks for in a recruit. "It meant a lot," Jones said of the Boeheim visit. "You get a legendary coach come in to speak at our dinner and come watch me play and practice, it was great."

Jones said the Syracuse underclassmen also influenced him. "They said I should come there," he said. "They really need me. We could have a good time (and) win some championships. "I'm going to go in there and try to tear it up. I'm going to do my best and work hard every day, academically and on my basketball."

Peekskill coach Lou Panzanaro said Jones originally wanted to go to Miami because it was a warm weather climate, but that ultimately Jones decided against it. As many as nine schools were in the mix at one point, including Louisville, Michigan, Kansas and Virginia Tech. Jones said he considered both Rutgers and St. John's, both of which he visited unofficially. "They're very good programs," he said. "St. John's is trying to build their program, so is Rutgers. And they have two very good coaches. They were good. I see myself playing there, too, at times, but since I went up to Syracuse it kind of changed my mind on everything."

Rob Rizzo, Jones' AAU coach, said the allure of St. John's has dimmed because more high school games are now played at Madison Square Garden and more games are on TV, meaning those are things St. John's no longer has over other schools. Panzanaro added that the recent history at both Rutgers and St. John's probably hurt those schools, mentioning the turnover at St. John's and the fact that Fred Hill has only been at Rutgers for two years and has yet to establish a winning tradition.

Jones joined the Peekskill varsity as an eighth-grader and Panzanaro said he put him on the team because of his willingness to cover much bigger post players. "At that point, he was so weak, he had trouble reaching the basket from the foul line," Panzanaro said. Over time, he has significantly increased his ability to create off the dribble. "The biggest change over the summer is now, he handles the ball as well as our point guard, but he also has the confidence," Panzanaro said. "I watch him play now, and he doesn't feel like he can be stopped. If his shot's not going in, he'll get to the basket. You give him a step, he'll break you down with his dribble. He'll cross you over. He'll step back and hit the 3. He's just playing with a tremendous amount of confidence."

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