When Tre Jones went down with an ankle injury in game number 15, two things happened.
The first, is his candidacy for EYBL regular season Most Valuable Player took a hit.
The second is simple, and may be the biggest argument as to why Mr. Jones should be MVP; the Howard Pulley Panthers became a completely different team.
And not in a good way.
The Panthers limped to the finish line, losing the game in which Jones excited, followed by a loss to the struggling Nike Phamily. It became abundantly clear just how important Jones was to Pulley's success, and losing him for an extended period of time would be devastating.
Luckily, Jones escaped serious injury, and the damage looks like it was limited to to those two losses.
His absence showed just how important he is to the Panthers, and we're sure no one would blame us if we awarded him MVP anyway. He was a razor-close decision, but settling for top offensive player on the circuit is no small consolation.
Through 14 and a half games, no player matched Jones' overall offensive production. The 6-foot-3 floor general put up averages of 19.3 points, 56.5 FG%, 80.0 FT%, 8.3 assists and only 1.8 turnovers. He led the 13-3 Panthers to a share of the EYBL regular season title while accounting for over half of Pulley's points.
Jones' offensive game improved across the board from a year ago. His court vision is dynamic, his decision-making nearly flawless, and he's turned into one of the EYBL's best finishers at the basket.
The Apple Valley (MN) product truly makes each one of his teammates better. He knows each and every one of their skill sets, and understands the best way to use them. Head coach Luv Harris depends on his point guard to be a direct extension of his coaching on the floor, and Jones has delivered in a big way.
Jones' finest performance came in a session three win over Houston Hoops. He put up 31 point and 17 assists, accounting for over 75 percent of Pulley's offense.
One little ankle injury, and this article probably would never have been written. Director Rene Pulley was glad to have his star guard recognized, but couldn't help but wonder.
"If he doesn't get hurt, and we go 15-1," Pulley questioned. "Then what?"
Then he'd likely be MVP.
How the Panthers performed without Jones was telling. They were a completely different squad without him.
And proved he's as important as anyone.
Photo credit: Jon Lopez