19 December, 2022
23 May, 2023
2 Lamont Jones (MNM)
17/04/2023
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''Momo'' Jones building momentum with Manama

BEIRUT (Lebanon) - Manama weren’t exactly deep in trouble before Lamont Jones joined the team mid-WASL season. They were sitting in second place in Group B of WASL Gulf in the Group Phase with a 3-1 record, suffering their only loss to the undefeated Kuwait Club by only 3 points.

While that looked good on paper, maybe Manama felt that it might not be enough. With the stakes in WASL Gulf as high as it is (where only the top 3 teams in the Final Standings advance to the WASL Final 8), wading in the waters of second place in the Group Phase might not have felt secure.

And with that, change started taking place.

"There’s nothing like going through the fire and coming out on the other side burnt and bruised but victorious."

 

After the break that made way for the International Window for Mens’ Basketball in February 2023, Manama returned to action with two new players. They’d make another player change heading into the Final Phase as well as a coaching change.

Even though it wasn’t the smoothest transition which started with a 28-point loss, Manama have pulled through and are now in the Semi-Finals - one step away from making it to the WASL Final 8.

Among the main catalysts through this run is Lamont Jones, the mid-season addition that has stepped up and starred for the Bahrain champions.

When a player comes into a team in the middle of the season, there’s always a concern about how that player would adapt to the new environment. For the new Manama fan favorite who fondly goes by "Momo", it might have been the other way around.

"I think the team had to adjust to me more," said Jones with a laugh.

"I think Manama needed a leader and an identity on the court and I think my confidence and attitude was able to give that," he added. "I’m very outspoken. I talk trash, play hard, and, most importantly, I don’t care who is in front of me and I think since coming here as a team we have taken on that identity, that confidence, that brave spirit."

That identity was laid out in full display in the opening round of the Final Phase - the Qualification to the Semi-Finals.

The new-look Manama found themselves coming off a rough start after a loss to Kazma in Game 1. They had led by as much as 15 points before losing by 14 points to the Kuwait side that had qualified as the third-placed team in Group A.

Instead of hanging his head down, Jones took the blow in the chin and left that game with an outlook that would turn things around.

"Losing to Kazma in the first game really hurt us," he started. "But It was also an eye-opener. We realized we were finally scratching the surface of being good. We had seen how good we could be and how bad we could be when we don’t play tough and let our guard down."

"It gave us a sense of confidence, honestly. We were pissed at ourselves that we had lost because we understood we beat ourselves."

Once their eyes were "opened", Manama - and Momo Jones - took over.

Jones recorded back-to-back double-doubles in Games 2 and 3 with at least 5 rebounds and a total of 7 steals. He shot 59.3 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from the three-point line. His performance in Game 3, in particular, was so riveting that the Manama faithful who had been silenced in the opening game could not help but chant the name of their new hero late in the game.

"Momo! Momo! Momo!"

The crowd repeated as they celebrated a performance of 32 points, 5 rebounds, and 10 assists on 11-17 shooting with 4 three-pointers.

"Oh, that feels amazing," Jones chuckled when asked about the moment. "Whenever you can get a crowd to chant your name and rally with you, it’s a great feeling. Plus, it lets me know I doing my job and that’s putting on a show."

Stepping up in big games is not something new to Jones. Back in 2011 when he was playing for the Arizona Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament, Jones stepped up to upset defending champions and heavy favorites Duke by scoring 16 points.

"I live for these moments and I love these moments," he said. "I think that’s the most important part. It’s a challenge and you always want to be at your best when you’re challenged. There’s nothing like going through the fire and coming out on the other side burnt and bruised but victorious."

Victorious did Manama come out on the other side in both "do-or-die" games against Kazma, locking up a spot in the Semi-Finals where they will go up against Al Hilal. The Saudi Arabia club poses an even bigger challenge for Jones and Manama as they feature some big-time talents in Mohammed Alsuwailem and Khalid Abdel Gabar.

However, you always want to be at your best when you’re challenged as Jones said and Manama have been getting better and better with each passing game.

"I think the one thing that stayed consistent in our locker room was to get better day by day. We added [new players] and a new coach, so I think for us, it was just understanding we were good and if we didn’t cheat the process, things would start to go our way once we put all the pieces together."

Jones is a great example of getting better day by day. Whether it’s +/- or EF, Jones has generally improved after the five games he’s played in.

From here, maybe Manama beats Al Hilal and clinches a spot in the WASL Final 8. Maybe they even win the first-ever WASL Gulf title. Or maybe they have to get to WASL Final 8 the hard way by securing third place.

Whatever happens, it will certainly be an entertaining ride with the showmanship of Lamont "Momo" Jones on display here in WASL Gulf.

"Honestly it’s felt amazing [to play in WASL]," said Jones. "It’s been an experience as far as adjusting to the style of play, the fans, and just being able to be me."

"Manama has allowed me to come in from day one and just be me in every way and I think that’s what has made things so sweet and enjoyable, as well as my teammates, management and the country being so amazing to me."

FIBA