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Lizi Arbogast / The Outlook Central Coosa's Noel Jones was typically the focus of opposing teams' defenses but he still managed to score more than 20 points per game this season.

Everyone knew Noel Jones could be a big scorer.

For the last several years, the Central Coosa boys basketball star has been a prolific scorer and with each season, he’s added yet another tool to his arsenal.

But this year, what stood out most wasn’t his big-time scoring, his ball handling or his knack for grabbing rebounds. The biggest thing he provided for the Cougars was his leadership skills.

Jones was a senior this year on the very successful Coosa team and he knew he would be leaving it in the hands of some youngsters. So he took those underclassmen under his wing, and Jones is the 2019-20 All-Outlook Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

“The biggest thing he did was talking to (those young guys) all the time but I would tell Noel he needed to go after them,” Central Coosa coach Richard Bell said. “So he did that. He would coach then it was like he would give them the big brother effect. He would try to kill them then turn around and talk to them again.

“I really think Dequalon (Thomas) and Tre (Butler) got better because of Noel. I feel more confident about next year because of Noel. He came after those guys and they knew they had to step up their game. He really trained those guards to become better guards.”

Although Thomas and Butler were the main ball handlers, Jones did also take on some more of that duty. One critique of Jones has always been a question about if he could handle the ball well enough to be a team leader. He was put to the test this season after the graduation of starting guards Omar Gaddis and Jovon Richardson who helped lead the team to the state championship the year prior.

But it was clear Jones was up to the task.

“He really improved his ball handling,” Bell said. “We knew Omar and Jovon did all the ball handling and decision making before, so we put the ball in Noel’s hands a lot to initiate the offense and score on the offense. People have always said, ‘Oh, Noel can’t handle that ball pressure,’ but he showed everybody he could. He started to take command of plays, calling plays on offense and defense.”

As important as his leadership and ball handling skills were, Jones didn’t let his other talents fall by the wayside either. Jones averaged a staggering 23.7 points per game and capped it off by averaging a double-double with 12.0 rebounds per game. He also continued to be a big distributor with 3.9 assists per game.

Jones stuffed the stat sheet on defense as well, earning more than two steals per game on average.

“I knew he was going to have to do everything, and he did,” Bell said. “Our guards were young and our big men were inexperienced, so he had to pull his load and then some. I knew he put a lot on his plate. I was worried about him getting sick or hurt, but he led the way for everything he did. He made the whole team better.”

Going into this season, Jones was one of only two returning starters from the Class 2A state title team, along with Quin Brooks, so Jones knew he was going to have to take on a bigger role than ever before. But not once did he let that pressure get to him.

“He dealt with it pretty well,” Bell said. “He really thrived being an upperclassman; he wanted that and he did a really good job with it. He never complained with it. He was disappointed that last Ariton game because he wanted to do more and he knew we should’ve beat those guys. But other than that, he never let the pressure be too much for him.”

The future for Jones is still unknown as he’s had some small-school interest from recruiters but is working to get his academics on par with what’s required. But Bell believes if Jones continues to work hard and takes on being a role player early in his college career, he will go far.

“Once he gets into a college atmosphere and used to that, I think he can be a really good scorer,” Bell said. “I told Noel that the conditioning and competitiveness at college is going to be a whole new level, but I believe with a year in college and getting his conditioning down, he’ll be ready to be a big contributor.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.