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March Madness shines spotlight on Iona's shooting star, Lamont 'Momo' Jones

Iona guard Lamont

Iona guard Lamont "Momo" Jones drives to the basket past Manhattan forward Emmy Andujar during the first half of the 2013 MAAC championship game in Springfield, Mass. (March 11, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

You wouldn't know it judging by his statistics, but there was a time when Iona guard Lamont "Momo" Jones wasn't comfortable shooting the ball.

Jones, 22, transferred to Iona before the 2011-12 season from the University of Arizona, where he was the starting point guard on a team that reached the Elite Eight. With the Wildcats, Jones focused more on distributing the basketball than scoring.

"He basically just brought the ball up, passed to someone and then went and stood in the corner," Iona coach Tim Cluess said after the team's Tuesday practice. "He had so much offensive ability that was not being used."

Arizona didn't need Jones to rack up gaudy point totals because the Wildcats' offense ran through All-American forward Derrick Williams, now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. In Iona's fast-paced offense, however, Jones' scoring skills were in demand, so Cluess tried to tap into Jones' offensive potential, a process that wasn't always easy.

At one point last season, Cluess benched Jones because he wasn't taking enough shots.

Now a senior, the Harlem native doesn't have to be nudged anymore. Jones is averaging 23 points per game, third-most in Division I, and was named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's Player of the Year.

"You don't hear every coach tell you to shoot every time you're open," said the Gaels' 3-point specialist, Sean Armand. "Surprisingly, Momo had a tough time shooting the ball (last year), but now he's got the concept down."

Iona (20-13), the 15th seed in the West region, will play Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at 7:15 p.m. Friday in Dayton, Ohio. The team leaves for Ohio on Wednesday.

It will be Iona's second consecutive appearance in the Big Dance; It will be Jones' third.

Jones said he hasn't looked back since he left Arizona to be closer to his grandmother, who lives in Harlem and was diagnosed with hepatitis C.

And why would he?

"I've made history here, making two NCAA Tournaments in a row (at Iona) and hopefully winning the game in the tournament," he said. "I've broken records here. I've got Player of the Year. I'm not satisfied, but if you're not happy with that, there's something wrong with you. I honestly think that coming here saved my career."

Aside from his on-the-court accolades, Jones said he has grown as a person in his two years at Iona, in large part to becoming a father last May. His son, Jace, can sometimes be seen at games and practices.

"I don't get to see him as much I want to because of the schedule of being an athlete, being a student. It's hard, but at the same time, you realize that what I'm doing right now is to better my son's life. Everything that I'm doing is for him," said Jones, who plans to pursue a professional basketball career.

Cluess said it is evident that fatherhood has changed Jones.

"It's made him care about others a little more," Cluess said. "It's been good for him. I think -- how do I phrase it the right way? -- he was a little bit self-centered, like a lot of youth are, and I think fatherhood gave him a different perspective on life, that now somebody depended on him."

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