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Taming a roller-coaster career

Freddie Jones aims to be as consistent as he is good this year

EUGENE Ñ Sports is full of confident athletes who never show weakness, bristle at the mention of weakness and do everything in their power to expose weakness in others. It is the nature of sports. The strong survive.

So, when a superb athlete concedes that he has had a disappointing college career and is trying to shed an inconsistent, lazy label, it is somewhat refreshing. An athlete being human first.

'It's been a career,' Oregon senior guard Freddie Jones says when asked if he has had a good career.

'I haven't played nearly as well as I wanted to play here. My expectations were a lot higher than I performed at. I'm just trying to go out the best way I can. I can't dwell on it.'

Because, Jones says, 'that's what has continued to hurt me throughout my career. I look back, and I'm upset with it.'

So much potential. So much talent. If he would only play hard every night, with intensity, with spirit, with defense, without being lazy. Jones has heard all of the criticism Ñ from fans, teammates and coach Ernie Kent.

'He's been that way ever since he's been here,' Kent says. 'It's consistency is all it is. He is better this year. At the same time, we need him to be better. He's a great kid. If I could put my finger on (the problem), I'd help him out.'

Surprisingly, it doesn't sting. Because what the Ducks get most of the time is something outstanding, athletically breathtaking and pivotal in the basketball team's quest to be the Pacific-10 Conference champion.

We're talking about the Ducks' second-leading scorer, averaging 15.5 points Ñ 15 per in four years Ñ shooting .529 from the field and ranking top six all-time at UO in 3-pointers, assists, blocks and steals. We're talking about one of the best dunkers in the college game.

'When he puts his mind to playing, he's the best I've seen,' sophomore guard James Davis says. 'Like every great player, you have to be up to playing every night. He knows it.

'He can make or break this team.'

Dunks and defense

He plays off the crowd, mostly playing his best games at McArthur Court.

He feeds off the offense, thriving when he gets the ball.

He excels and his confidence soars; he struggles and confidence dips.

Jones' career can be sized up in the motion of one of his famous dunks. He rises and rises and slams the ball emphatically, then falls and hits the ground.

Last year, Jones scored 36 points at Arizona State ÑÊand four the next game at Arizona. He scored two points at Stanford, seven at home against Arizona and nine against UCLA at home.

This year, Jones has been better, suffering lapses only on the road, the notable ones being during losses at Portland and Arizona State. He fouled out of both games; against the Pilots, he looked completely disinterested.

'It's a long season, and there are a lot of expectations,' point guard Luke Ridnour says. 'He's going to be fine, I'm telling you. We've got a lot of faith in him.'

Kent has emphasized defense as a way to get the Ducks, who play host to Stanford on Saturday, back in the NCAA Tournament. To Jones, defense had become a foreign word because the athletically gifted athlete could always get by without playing it.

Jones remembers being the defensive stopper on Portland AAU teams coached by Howard Avery. But, starting his junior year at Barlow High, Jones let the defense lapse, he says.

After all, in Portland pickup games against the likes of Dennis Nathan, Craig Lewis, Ben Coffee and Boomer Brazzle, who wanted to play defense anyway?

'Freddie has done a great job defensively,' Oregon assistant coach Fred Litzenberger says. 'He's bought into it. But when you don't start (playing defense) until you're a senior, you have to relearn fundamentals.'

Wanting to play defense, Litzenberger adds, 'is the hard thing, especially when you rely on old habits.' Even today, while Jones has improved 'on-the-ball defense,' he takes breaks off the ball.

Defense will make or break Jones' pro career, too. He has NBA talent Ñ think of J.R. Rider, a post-up guard with an improving jumper Ñ and you have the 6-4, 220-pound Jones. Strong as an ox, with NBA-caliber leaping ability.

'I've always been told you can get to the 'league' just on defense alone,' Jones says. 'I want to play in the NBA. I haven't seen myself doing anything else. But I have to be consistent every game. (Scouts) want to see this year if I'm going to be the (inconsistent) player they've heard about and seen on some nights.'