|Around the Rim: Change in Arledge|
The proverbial inner light bulb has turned on and Jonathan Arledge's performance has taken off for the past three games. Since being promoted to the starting lineup after Johnny Williams' concussion, the 6-9 junior forward is averaging 18 points and six rebounds while shooting 51.4 percent in 31 minutes per game.
Before the stretch, Arledge was playing 14.1 minutes a game, averaging 5.2 points and 3.9 rebounds, and shooting 42 percent. So he has more than doubled his production. He's grateful but not satisfied.
"First of all, I want to thank God for everything he's doing for me right now. Everything is starting to come together for me," Arledge said. "I don't plan to slow down from here. I plan to keep it up as much as I can, and even improve and show more. I just want to do whatever is best for the team to win, get the CAA (regular-season) title and get to the CAA (tournament) championship game and hopefully win that, too."
The sudden emergence as Arledge as a force in the post makes Mason a different team. Coach Paul Hewitt recently challenged the post players - Arledge, Williams, Erik Copes and Marko Gujanicic - to increase their scoring and rebounding. Arledge's recent play has given the Patriots more of an inside presence and a complement to leading scorer Sherrod Wright.
"When he's aggressive," point guard Corey Edwards says of Arledge, "we're a much better team."
Arledge's performances are not surprising to teammates and coaches, who have seen flashes of his ability. He brought a recent practice to a head-shaking halt with a thunderous tip dunk of a missed shot.
"He has the potential to be a pro," Edwards says. "He can shoot threes and put in on the floor - and he's 6-9, 6-10. His potential is out the window."
Hewitt often wondered about Arledge's attitude, though. The coach used phrases in describing him that sounded like Winston Churchill's comment about Russia's intentions early in World War II as "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."
Says Hewitt, "Being perfectly frank, there were days that Jon would walk on the court for practice and you weren't sure whether he wanted to be there or not. He would. But his body language and facial expressions suggested otherwise. I think he's understanding how his teammates read that, how his coaches read that.
"Now instead of sitting on the side and laying back, he gets out on the court, grabs a ball, gets someone to work with him. It's the oldest line in the book: If you're going to do something great, it's got to be done with enthusiasm. I think his level of enthusiasm has gone up."
Arledge is showing signs of being a workaholic. He's taken the expression "living in the gym" literally. He hits the Patriot Center late at night for extra shooting and running the stairs. He brings his books and sometimes has slept in the locker room "because it's so late and I don't feel like walking back to my dorm room."
He's trying to make up for lost time. Arledge has been playing basketball seriously for only six years, since his sophomore year in high school at KIMA (Kamit Institute for Magnificent Achievers) in Washington, D.C. Prior to that he was a quarterback. But sprouting from 5-8 as an 8th grader to 6-3 as a high school freshman changed the course of his athletic career. So did meeting AAU coach JD Stewart of the Severn City Ballerz, who encouraged Arledge and spent a lot of time developing his shot.
"I fell in love with basketball because of them," Arledge says.
Arledge made All-Met as a senior at KIMA, drawing interest from 38 schools by his count. His final four choices included Georgetown, Temple and Xavier, none of whom officially offered scholarships. Mason was a favorite because it would enable his mother to see him play.
When Hewitt replaced former head coach Jim Larranaga after Arledge's freshman year, Arledge considered transferring. "I thought about it," Arledge says. "But it was new beginning, a new change, a new coach, a new environment. So I wanted to give it a try."
Hewitt thinks Arledge contemplated a transfer last year after playing 12 minutes a game: "That was part of the whole idea of him looking outward and not looking internally. In the past, he'd look at other factors, outside factors instead of thinking, 'What do I have to do to get better?'
"It's not about the coach, it's not about this guy not passing me the ball, it's not about the referee. It's about me and what I have to do. I think that's the biggest change. In the last 10-15 days, I've noticed a change."
Arledge's proverbial inner light has evidently been turned on. Hewitt's comments about his career nearly being over finally have sunk in.
"It is getting late in my career," Arledge says. "If I want to continue playing basketball after I graduate, I've got to start do something now. I can't keep waiting and letting stuff pass and letting stuff go and being so passive. If I want it, I've got to out there and grab it. It's not going to be handed to me on a silver platter.
"Everyone always said I had potential. I never paid attention to that or understood what that meant until now. I'm more mature and I understand what I can do. I have to work for it. Just because someone says you have potential, it doesn't mean it's just going to come. You've got to work to accomplish that potential."
Hewitt and Arledge talked Monday as they left the arena at ODU after a victory that included Arledge's career-high 21 points. "He said, 'Coach I'm taking the approach I'm the best player on the floor. I'm going to play with that kind of confidence,'" Hewitt remembers. "Obviously the results are tremendous for him. I'm very happy for him."
Hewitt thinks the lanky 223-pound Arledge can improve as his strength increases. Arledge is aware that a three-game stretch does not a season or career make.
"I want to be that go-to guy for our team," he says. "But I've got to prove to everyone I can be. These three games aren't enough. I've got to be consistent and do it every game."