Herbert Jones' offensive game, legend in native Greensboro growing in Alabama basketball run

Brett Hudson
The Tuscaloosa News

The circle of high school basketball coaches was small enough to connect the circles of Nate Oats and Herbert Jones before the former started coaching the latter.

Steve Brooks, the coach at Ypsilanti High School for Oats’ years as a high school coach in Michigan, had a family connection to Antwan Butler, the Hale County coach who coached Jones in high school.

Through their mutual connections, Brooks relayed Butler a message.

“Tell your guy to stay,” Brooks said. “He’s going to like this.”

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Jones did stay, and in his two years under Oats he has developed from a defensive specialist with little to speak of on the offensive side of the floor to a member of the Naismith Player of the Year Midseason Team this season.

As Alabama travels to Georgia for its regular season finale Saturday (1 p.m. CT, CBS), Jones is averaging 11 points, shooting 45.5% from 3-point range and leading the team with 81 assists.

Oats called his shot on Jones as early as November, saying then he should be a first-team All-SEC player. Granted, that was the expectation for Jones from his native Greensboro.

“We knew his potential. He just had to put everything together, and look at him now: He’s one of the top in the SEC this year,” Butler said. “I think it’s just manifestation of his talent after a few years. He worked on his jumper and all, but he always had a good offensive game, it’s just at another level, at the next level.”

Alabama forward Herbert Jones (1) dunks the ball over Arkansas forward Connor Vanover (23) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Fayetteville, Ark. Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

While the time and effort has served Jones well, there is a case to be made he never reaches this level of offensive production without Oats, and more importantly, the style of play Oats brought with him.

“It’s not run-and-gun, but it’s more freestyle, pushing the ball up the floor, attacking the paint, drive-and-kick,” Butler said. “That helped him out a lot. That was the kind of style we played.”

At times, Jones has been more than a useful offensive player, progressing close to being a star.

In February alone, Jones had a 21-point game against Georgia and a 10-point, six-assist performance in his final game at Coleman Coliseum on Tuesday against Auburn. Earlier in the SEC slate, he was one rebound and two assists short of a triple double against Kentucky, which came immediately following 17 points and seven assists against Mississippi State.

Yet, Jones has not lost what made him valuable before Oats arrived.

“Herb Jones is probably the best defensive player I’ve ever coached,” Oats said.

The result of Jones’ typical defense combining with increased offensive production has made him a draft prospect. The Athletic’s latest big board ranks Jones 55th, ahead of teammate John Petty Jr. and in the range of getting drafted in the second round.

As Jones tries to solidify that status and take UA as far into the NCAA Tournament as he can, he will have all eyes of Greensboro on him.

“Coaches and friends call me asking if I’m watching the game, ask if I’m watching Herb play,” Butler said. “Just about every game, somebody’s going to call and check.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson