Arizona lost a significant dose of scoring and swagger Monday evening when junior-to-be guard MoMo Jones announced he is leaving the Wildcats.
Jones, the Wildcats' second-leading scorer last season, cited family reasons for his departure. He was expected to be part of a crowded but talented backcourt next season that included highly regarded incoming freshmen Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson.
"I would like to thank my coaches, my teammates and all of the U of A fans for making my two years at Arizona very special," Jones said in a UA news release. "After much thought, I have decided to pursue my goals at a school closer to home. My desire to be closer to my family, and in particular my grandmother, is the reason I am transferring. I want it to be known that I love this program, my coaches and teammates. I appreciate everyone for supporting me through this tough time."
The New York native said he had not chosen a new school yet. But if he does pick one in the Northeast, he might gain a waiver to play immediately if the NCAA determines he left for a family emergency.
The news came as a surprise to Johnson, whose Twitter feed said he was "just shocked" when asked about Jones' departure. Jones had played an active role in recruiting both Johnson and Turner, and even served as Turner's recruiting host. Jones also said last season that he was not concerned about losing playing time to any incoming freshmen.
While Turner's credentials suggested he might at least eventually take over the UA's starting point guard spot, Jones was a combo guard who could have found time at either guard spot. In addition, UA coach Sean Miller said after the season that he was considering playing three guards at a time next season, with Jones presumably in the mix.
Miller said in the UA's statement Monday that Jones had been pondering a move.
"This spring MoMo expressed to me his desire to be closer to home while continuing his life as a student-athlete," Miller said. "After considering this for several weeks this spring, he's decided to leave our program. He did a great job in his two years here and helped us win a Pac-10 championship this past season. We wish him great success in the future."
An attempt to reach Jones on Monday night by cellphone was unsuccessful.
Committing to Miller's first recruiting class in June 2009, after he was released from his USC letter of intent, Jones was known as a natural shooting guard. But he moved to point guard last season with Nic Wise having graduated.
There, Jones averaged 9.7 points and 2.4 assists per game while showing improvement at the point in the last half of the season. He also often saved his best efforts for clutch moments or when the Wildcats were struggling.
Jones had 20 points in UA's 87-65 loss to BYU in Salt Lake City and 20 in a 76-75 loss at Oregon State. His signature game might have been his 27-point effort in the Wildcats' triple-overtime win at California, when he hit several clutch free throws and scored 12 points over the three overtime periods when UA was playing with star forward Derrick Williams having fouled out.
Jones' departure trims the Wildcats' roster to 12 players, their NCAA-sanctioned limit next season, and his scoring can be filled by a number of players next season. UA already returns a starting off-guard in Kyle Fogg, and an improving sophomore combo guard in Jordin Mayes, as well as bringing in Turner and Johnson.
Turner is considered one of the top three point guards in the high school class of 2011, and Johnson is a supremely athletic scorer.
The Wildcats may have a tougher time replacing Jones' swagger.
After gesticulating wildly throughout the Wildcats' triple-overtime game at Cal, Jones calmly said it was "just another day in the life of MoMo Jones." He often said his confidence was a product of having a rough young life in Harlem, which included his father being shot and killed when Jones was just 8 years old.
"Where I come from, you can either channel it as animosity or you can put it in this little box that I have and channel it into all the right directions," Jones once said. "The court, it's like my sanctuary. On the court, I play with fire and I play with heart and I play with emotion - and that's my way of going to sleep at night."