Myles Jones is Nike/LM D-I Men's Preseason Player of the Year
There might not be a more recognizable player in college lacrosse this season than Duke midfielder Myles Jones, for many, many reasons.
At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, he was (and remains) impossible to miss as he roamed the midfield as a freshman contributor to Duke's 2013 national champions. He emerged as an even more significant presence when the Blue Devils repeated the following year. And he was a Tewaaraton finalist last season as a junior.
He's also one of a handful of black stars at either the college or pro level in a sport still seeking to grow a more demographically diverse group of participants and fans.
Put it all together, and pretty much every question imaginable has come Jones' way since his arrival at Duke. There's one, though, he finds most intriguing — for both the present and the future.
"I think the question that would be most interesting is 'What am I going to do with lacrosse going forward?'" Jones said. "It's something I think about every day. Lacrosse has changed my life. I wouldn't be here at Duke if I didn't play lacrosse. It wouldn't be right if I didn't help change someone else's life and give the opportunity to someone who maybe wouldn't have played."
It's a process already well underway for the Blue Devil senior, who is the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine's Division I men's preseason player of the year. Since the end of last season, Jones has done clinics in Brooklyn, Baltimore and Harlem, the latter coming during Duke's holiday break in early January.
Last week, he received a letter from one of the Harlem clinic participants who said he was practicing at every opportunity he had — a note Jones said was "touching" and only reaffirmed the sort of role he could play in the sport well beyond the end of his college career.
"I try to show kids there's someone who looks like them who's had a good career playing lacrosse," Jones said. "There's a slim chance to make it in football and basketball, but there's other options. For every college team, there's 45 spots and 45 opportunities where you could step in and go to college and try to pursue the dream I've lived."
"I think the question that would be most interesting is 'What am I going to do with lacrosse going forward?' It's something I think about every day," Jones said. (John Strohsacker)
It's worked out well so far for Jones, who is coming off only the second 40-goal season by a midfielder in Duke history. He enters his final college year with 93 career goals and 68 assists, including a monster 77-point season as the centerpiece of the Blue Devils' offense last season.
While Jones clearly was skilled enough to make a difference for Duke — and he again projects to be one of the nation's most difficult players to defend — coach John Danowski envisioned the possibility of the Huntington, N.Y., product emerging as a figure far more important than a handful of statistics.
"When we recruited him, we told him 'If things go the way they could, this would be a role; we're not going to put you in this situation if we didn't think you could handle it,'" Danowski said. "He wanted that challenge. He wanted that opportunity. He understood what it could mean for the sport and for a lot of young kids who could use him as a strong, positive role model and he has certainly accomplished that and surpassed that."
For it to happen at Duke is also pivotal.
"I think it's been important for Duke and the program, especially given the situation in 2006 and the undertones of what went on," Danowski said. "I think he's an ambassador not only for the game but for Duke University and Duke lacrosse on so many levels."
The on-field component certainly doesn't hurt, though. Jones has gradually developed during his college career, adding a left-handed shot as a sophomore and then growing into more than simply a dodging midfielder (granted, an exceptional one at that) a year ago. Next up? Refining his overall midfield skills and adding a greater leadership component as a senior.
Perhaps there will even be a third national title run in four years. Jones and teammate Deemer Class are among the top midfielders in the country, and Duke's potent attack (along with a stout faceoff man in Kyle Rowe) will help keep it nearly every game. After a one-year hiatus, Jones and the Blue Devils could easily return to Memorial Day weekend this spring.
That's also something that would provide another large platform for Jones' long-term aspirations.
"Especially with the college game growing and being on TV more and more, it gives more opportunities to other kids to see the game," Jones said. "Hopefully, that can excite somebody else to keep playing and take lacrosse to the next level."
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