Center of attention

With the disappointment of the men’s basketball team’s inaugural Big East season and its record-setting 16-game losing streak, 0-14 in Big East play, not to mention the multiple season-ending injuries, there is still something Solomon Jones is looking forward to.

Jones, who transferred from Daytona Beach Community College in 2004, will participate in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament on April 5-8, at Churchland High School in Portsmouth, Va.

“It’s a great accomplishment,” said Jones, who is averaging 12.9 points and 9.8 rebounds. “(I’m) going from somebody that’s kind of hidden that nobody really recognizes to somebody that has a great chance to make it to the next level.

“It was shocking, but I earned it, working hard over the summer trying to get to the next level, and it pays off down the road.”

Tournament chairman Mahlon Parker said after the season USF has had, it’s beneficial for players such as Jones to play against other players in a different atmosphere.

“It’s been a tough season,” Jones said. “It would’ve helped me and (senior guard) James (Holmes) more recruiting wise if we would’ve won some more games, but everything happens for a reason. Maybe it was a wake-up call for us, telling us that we have to do something better.”

It is the 54th consecutive year for the PIT, which is an eight-team tournament with eight players each who are all eyeing a shot at making the NBA.

“We have about 80 players that played here that are in the NBA,” Parker said. “We’ve got 208 (NBA scouts) coming in this year, so there’s a lot of interest from the NBA to see these kids.”

The PIT mostly consists of players who aren’t projected to be drafted in the first round of the NBA draft. However, Cincinnati forward Jason Maxiell, who participated in the PIT, was drafted in the first round by the Detroit Pistons with the 26th overall pick last year. Other notable players, such as Pistons center Ben Wallace and Toronto Raptors forward Antonio Davis, have also been involved in the tournament.

Parker believes Jones is in the top four of the eight centers who were invited and thinks it’s possible for him to get drafted late in the first round.

“He’s probably in (the size) category that he is 6-foot-10 (and) that he could move into the latter part of the first round,” Parker said. “It depends on which team is drafting, as always. If a team needs a big, tall rebounding guy that’s pretty long and lean, Solomon might have a good chance.”

With 12 double-doubles this season, Jones had plenty of individual success, but trying to win as a team has remained his focus.

“As a player, you like nothing better than for your last year to be your best, to have team success and individual success, and unfortunately he hasn’t had very much team success at all, but he’s handled it extremely well,” coach Robert McCullum said. “He’s continued to work hard. He’s continued to be a team player.”

The PIT is the final postseason event before the Chicago Draft Camp, which is a higher-level camp equivalent to an NFL combine.

“We had 25 guys from here last year that went on to Chicago, and that’s when they get their second good look, and you can tell things are moving along for them,” Parker said.

Jones hasn’t been invited to the Chicago Draft Camp but feels the possibility is obtainable.

“Why stop in Portsmouth?” Jones said. “Why not work hard and get invited to the next level? If you work hard (at the PIT), then you’ll get invited.”

While Jones is looking forward to his future in basketball, he remains focused on his final two games as the Bulls host No. 2 Connecticut tonight and No. 20 Georgetown on Saturday.

“I have two games left,” Jones said. “That’s my main concern, getting through these two games (and) trying to get off a win, our first Big East win, before the season is over.”