Louisville guard Chris Jones did not start in the Cardinals' 63-48 win over Long Beach State Tuesday night, the Cardinals' first return to action since Saturday's home loss to Kentucky. He didn't play in the first 30 minutes of the game.
It was odd. Jones is a routine starter in Rick Pitino's lineups. He averages 27.5 points per game. His usage rate (25.7 percent) is the highest of any Cardinals player; the same is true of his shots percentage (27.2). This is a matter of some frustration among observers: Jones is an extremely valuable defender whose 30 percent shooting and marginal assist numbers can nonetheless hurt his team as much as it helps. Even so, Jones is not a player you expect to see on the bench for any period of time, especially not with a chance to rebuild some lost confidence after Saturday's horrific 3-of-15 outing.
So why did Pitino put him on the pine? Because of the flop.
On Saturday, Jones attempted the season's most pathetic attempt to draw a flagrant elbow call. During a post-rebound scrum with Kentucky forward Dakari Johnson, Jones acted like he took an elbow to the face. As TV replays showed, the elbow came nowhere close. Worse, Jones kept up the ruse for several minutes, wincing and massaging his jaw, even as the referees viewed the whiff at the scorer's table.
After reviewing the tape, Pitino was none too happy about the display, and he expressed his distaste Tuesday night. From WDRB's Eric Crawford:
“I didn't start Chris, not because of his shooting percentages, I didn't start him because of the flop issue,” Pitino said after Louisville beat Long Beach State 63-48. “I was very upset at that. We don't do that type of thing. And then to fake it with the jaw like you got hit. You can't fake it. In junior college you do it. But you can't fake it. It's on TV. You can't fake those things. So I told him, you're not playing because of that. That's something Louisville guys don't do. But he was the best cheerleader on the bench and he did a great job with the guys.”
Jones also talked about the situation after the game, telling Crawford how he turned the fake-elbow call into an art form as a junior college player at Northwest Florida College. He got so good at it, Jones said, that he could "time the elbows."
It's one thing to fool juco refs without the benefit of replay, and it's doable when nobody is watching your games on TV. Pull that in the middle of Louisville-Kentucky, though, and the Internet is bound to destroy you. Which it promptly did.
Jones said Pitino, after watching tape of the play, called him in and “just said it looked bad. I saw it for myself when we watched on film. So I've stopped doing it. I think [sitting]was the right decision. I never question my coach. It is what it is. I'm moving past it. I cheered my teammates on and stood up like a man. It's just something I'm not going to do anymore. . . . At the end of the day, after you rewind and rewind and rewind, it does embarrass you. When it looks bad on film, you know it's bad, because film don't lie.”
There is no real post-hoc flop punishment rule in place at the college level, no mechanism to allow conferences or the NCAA to go back and suspend players for faking, and maybe there should be. But if every coach handles flopping the way Pitino handled Jones, we won't need to talk about a new rule. What form of discipline is more time-tested, and more effective, than shame?