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High expectations lead to unfair criticisms for Baylor mainstay Jones

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ATLANTA -- Perry Jones III had researched the paper, written the paper and turned the paper in, and now he was just waiting to get it back from his professor and see the grade. It was an English paper. He spent a lot of time on it. So when the grade came back and it was a B-plus, the sophomore at Baylor University tweeted the good news because he was, you know, pleased with his academic success.

"And then somebody tweeted that I need to stop worrying about my papers and get in the gym," Jones said. "I mean, I'm a student-athlete. I'm worried about my grades. My mom's worried about my grades. I do like school. But if I don't perform at the level everybody wants me to perform at [on the basketball court], everything I do is criticized."

Baylor will play Kentucky in the Elite Eight here at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.

It's a tremendous opportunity for the Big 12 school.

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A win by the Bears will put them in the Final Four for the first time since 1950. That it's a win which would occur against this tournament's overall No. 1 seed and college basketball's winningest program would make it an even bigger achievement, if such a thing is possible. But this is also big specifically for Perry Jones III -- the most criticized sophomore averaging 14 points and eight rebounds for a top-10 team in the history of the sport.

And that's not hyperbole.

Think about it.

Can you name anybody who has ever averaged 14 and eight as a sophomore for a wildly successful team and been called "disappointing" more often than Baylor's 6-foot-11 forward? I can't. And no coach, player or media member I spoke with Saturday could, either. Which means this Perry Jones III stuff is a strange deal.

"I just feel for Perry because people know what he's going to be like at 25, and they want it right now," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Here's a kid who went back to college because he said, you know what -- socially, academically, basketball-wise -- I want to grow. He never asked to be judged like he's a first pick in the NBA Draft."

But that's precisely how he's judged.

People decided Jones could be great years ago and ranked him accordingly, and now those same people spend their days killing him because he doesn't post numbers like Big 12 stars Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley once did. And by killing him, I mean killing him. Jones told me Saturday he doesn't even check his "mentions" on Twitter if he scores fewer than 15 points in a game.

"If I score under 15 points, I don't really look at my mentions," he explained, "because I know it's going to say, 'Perry didn't show up tonight' or something like that."

On some level, I get the frustration because I've been frustrated with Jones at times, too. We see him with all that size and all those skills -- and we watch Jones go for 31 points and 11 rebounds against Kansas State in the Big 12 tournament -- and wonder why he can't perform like a star every game because, if he could, he'd be the No. 1 pick everybody's always insisted he'd be. Viewed through that scope, it's simple to understand why Jones is often called disappointing. I've used that term myself.

But the bigger picture?

The bigger picture is pretty impressive.

The bigger picture is that Jones is a good kid who makes good grades and is having a good season on a good team. If you could forget what you think you know is possible for him, then wouldn't you have to be satisfied with that? Again, he's a sophomore averaging 14 points and eight rebounds for a team that's won 30 of the 37 games it's played and is one victory away from a Final Four. It's kinda crazy that that's the guy some folks call college basketball's biggest disappointment.

"People expect me to do everything -- to score 25 or 30 a night," Jones said. "I think the expectations were too high."

I think they might've been, too. And they've caused us to grade Jones on an unfair curve. Truth be told, he's only disappointing relative to what we wanted him to be. So we don't care that he's still pretty damn good. We're mad that's he's not really damn unbelievable. Every game. And that's fine. But understand that's basically the equivalent of wanting your son to be President of the United States and then calling him a disappointment when he only becomes a United States Senator.

"If you listen to all of it, it screws you up," said Kentucky coach John Calipari, a man who knows a thing or two about handling elite recruits. "Don't read it. Don't listen to it. Don't deal with it. Be your own cheerleader. And then, if you're working at it, you'll be fine.

"And I think he'll be fine," Calipari added with a smile. "I just hope it's not [against us]."

Which brings me back to Sunday afternoon.

Baylor and Kentucky will play in the Elite Eight.

The winner gets Louisville next Saturday in New Orleans.

The highlighted matchup will be Perry Jones III against Anthony Davis.

There's a chance Davis dominates Jones because that's what Davis does to most opposing bigs (and that's why he'll be the top pick in June's NBA Draft). Likewise, there's also a chance Jones gets 30 and 10 and has one of those games that makes scouts drool. Could go either way, I guess. That's what makes it fun.

But what if Jones only scores 14 points and only grabs eight rebounds in a Baylor win?

What if he's just really good as opposed to off-the-charts awesome?

Will people tweet bad things at him?

Will that disappoint everybody?

Think about that as the ball is tipped at 2:20 ET on Sunday.

Then ask yourself if Perry Jones III is the problem. Or are we?


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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