BUTLER JUNIOR Roosevelt Jones is a swingman who can't shoot, a physical player who specializes in teardrops and, despite a stocky 6'4", 227-pound frame, a man with a flowery nickname: Rosie.
He is also a vital player for one of the nation's most surprising teams. Jones is second on the Bulldogs in points per game (12.9), even though his coaches can't recall him taking a shot outside 15 feet all season. The stats back them up: Less than 2% of Jones's shots this year are jumpers, and of the six he has taken—none from three-point range—he has missed them all.
Jones succeeds because he's energetic and unorthodox. A righty, he drives left 52.1% of the time, relying on a crafty array of floaters, runners and scoops to score near the rim. Sag and rotate as they may, defenders can't stop him. "He's one of the toughest matchups in college basketball in the past 15 years," says Indiana coach Tom Crean, whose team beat Butler 82--73 on Dec. 20. "You know exactly what he's going to do, but he does it anyway."
Jones developed his old-man repertoire playing against old men. His father, Robert, started bringing him to an adult church league in East St. Louis, Ill., starting at age 10. Jones polished his many release points because he couldn't get traditional shots off against older players. Then, in the summer before ninth grade, he broke his right wrist, and the doctor arranged the cast so that Jones's arm stuck out like a chicken wing—the exact opposite of proper elbow-down jump shot form. "Whenever I shoot now," he says, "my elbow automatically goes out." So Jones just stopped shooting jumpers.
March 16, 2015
Instead, he became a relentless driver and all-around player. He leads Butler in assists (3.7 per game) and is second in rebounds (5.2). He also typically guards the opposition's best player—regardless of position—devours loose balls and brings an edge. Says Butler coach Chris Holtmann, "He's given all of our guys a belief in doing things that people wouldn't expect us to do."
No one expected the Bulldogs to be back in the NCAA tournament this year, but Jones's return after missing last season with torn ligaments in his left wrist has helped transform Butler from the second-worst team in the Big East in 2013--14 (14--17, 4--14) to the second best (22--9, 11--6). Butler especially missed Jones in the clutch last year, as it went 2--8 in league games decided by eight points or fewer. "The toughest moment of my life," Jones says, "was not being able to play the game I love or help my team while we lost games."
His roommate, senior forward Kameron Woods, credits Jones's focus and intensity as the missing ingredients in Butler's down season, citing a particularly revealing full moon in the Bronx two years ago, when Jones had his shorts yanked down during a game at Fordham. "He was so locked into the next possession," Woods says, "his bare butt was sticking out in the middle of the game, and he had no idea."
As the ultimate transition player—his Butler career has spanned three leagues (Horizon, Atlantic 10 and Big East) and three coaches (Brad Stevens, Brandon Miller and Holtmann)—Jones is always looking to finish with style. With the score tied in the waning seconds at Creighton on Feb. 16, Butler spread the floor and Jones drove to the hoop for—what else?—a game-winning floater that kissed off the glass. If Butler finds itself in a similar spot in the NCAAs, expect the shooter to be the guy who can't shoot.
Points per game—Jones's scoring average—is Butler's second highest.
Three-pointers attempted in his career, none this season.