TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Given the talent that University of Alabama basketball coach Nate Oats has lured to the Capstone, it was a pretty easy decision for wing Herb Jones to return for his senior season.
"I was just talking to Oats during the entire process, and he was telling me the pieces that were coming in,” Jones said as practices officially began earlier this month. “I just evaluated it and decided to come back and try to have a big year with the guys that were coming back with me and also guys that were new.
"The pieces that were coming in, I figured we would have a pretty good year.”
The college basketball world knows what Jones can do on the defensive side of the floor -- just look at his heroics against a top-25 LSU team last season, recording 17 rebounds, two steals, and a block while his left wrist was in a cast.
Even in a year when Jones battled a hyperextended elbow and fractured wrist, he still earned SEC All-Defensive honors at the end of it. But during this offseason and preseason, his focus is on growing his offensive repertoire.
“My main focus has pretty much been on my jump shot,” Jones said. “I’m still trying to figure out my decision-making skills on and off the ball. My jump shot has improved drastically, so that’s pretty much been my main emphasis in the offseason.”
Every year since his arrival to Tuscaloosa, Jones has seen an increase in points per game from 4.2 to 6.4 to 7.9 in the 2019-2020 campaign.
In his second year leading the Crimson Tide, Oats says that the Greensboro, Ala. native has been working his tail off, to make sure that the prospects of becoming a NBA draft pick become a reality in 2021.
"Offensively, he wasn’t ready for the NBA,” Oats said. “One of the big things people could say is he only made one 3 last year. His work in the gym this summer and this fall and every day moving forward will basically determine whether he’s able to make millions of dollars or not. If you come at it from that mindset, you realize that's a lot of money on the table.
“He's spent a lot of time at it. I think he looks much better. I think he will always be a better driver than shooter because that's in his game. He’s markedly improved. Jordan Bruner made the comment in front of the team once: ‘It’s not to the point where Herb can make a shot anymore, no Herb’s a shooter now.’ When teammates are making comments like that, I think it gives him confidence to keep working at his game. I think he’ll do better and better.”
Jones' former high school coach, Hale County's Antwan Butler, is expecting another year of exponential growth for one of his former stars.
"I think his game has progressed well over his career at Alabama," Butler told Bama Central. "I've seen him change his shot to get it back like he was shooting it in high school. He should have a pretty good year this season."
What could really separate the Crimson Tide, from being a middle of the road team to a squad competing for an SEC title and a potential run in March Madness, is if Jones is able to match his defensive prowess with an offensive game that keeps opposing teams honest.
"I really think he'll be able to do that because he is such an unselfish player," Butler said. "He'll do whatever the coach wants him to do to win the game. So if you need him to lock down the other team's best player, then he will do that. I know what kind of player he is and he has the heart of a champion. I think he has the ability and is capable of scoring, too. If he can match those two, it will help Alabama tremendously.
"I think you'll really see it this year."
With eight new scholarship players, Jones is one of four (John Petty Jr., Alex Reese, and Jaden Shackelford) with experience returning this season. He will look to be the savvy veteran for a roster loaded with fresh faces.
"I tell them to listen to coach and buy into the program," Jones said. "They are going to make mistakes but play hard, play with effort and the rest will come in time. I have been telling them not to worry about the mistakes but focus on playing hard and doing the right things."
At the beginning of last year when Oats began to hand out his Blue Collar Award following games, which is a hard hat given to the player with the most hustle points, Jones leads all Crimson Tide players by a landslide with 593.
The next closest was Petty with 485.
"He is one of the best defenders in the country," Oats said. "I'm hoping he ends up being the best defender in the country because I think he has the capabilities to be."
For a team that led the SEC in points per game, three-pointers made, and three-point field goal percentage last season, Alabama's 'Mr. Blue Collar' becoming a shooter doesn't bode well for the opposition.
"It's amazing, you know, it just adds more threats all over the floor," Crimson Tide guard Jaden Shackelford said. "Now we have guys shooting really good percentages from three in practice. The more threats the better. We got guys like [Josh] Primo, Keon Ellis that can shoot the ball really well on top of me, JP, [Alex] Reese, and Jahvon Quinerly.
"Herb's shot is coming along as well. It's just nice to have shooters all over the floor. We are working in the gym every day to get better and better. We are going to see it pay off."