Bulldogs' Malone Could Score With the Best of Them

It’s a relatively new term basketball coaches use these days when they say a player “can score the ball.” It means that a player can find different ways to get the ball in the hoop.Well, brothers and sisters, Jeff Malone could ever more score the basketball, even before there was such a phrasing. He could score it from long range, from mid-range and by taking it straight to the hoop. He could score coming off a screen or by pulling up and shooting over the defender.He became Mississippi State’s all-time leading scorer before going on to score more than 17,000 points over a 13-year professional basketball career.Malone’s first year at Mississippi State (1979-80) coincided with my first year of covering State for The Clarion-Ledger. Not before – or since — have I seen a smoother, more technically correct jump shot. Malone, a strongly built, 6-foot, 4-inch shooting guard, would elevate and then put up a shot that so soft that it seemed it almost had to go through the bucket.

Naismith Hall of Famer Bailey Howell, generally recognized as Mississippi’s most accomplished basketball player, was an MSU season ticket holder when Malone played for the Bulldogs
“What I remember is that Jeff was so accurate on the mid-range jump shot, which is kind of a forgotten art in basketball these days,” Howell says. “Most players practice from behind the 3-point line or they want to take it in and dunk it. Jeff could really shoot the 12- to 15-footer. Plus, I always thought he was underrated as a defensive player.”

Malone, born in Mobile, grew up in Macon, Ga., and played for a high school team that won the mythical national high school championship. He was highly recruited and eventually narrowed his choices to State and his homestate Georgia Bulldogs.

“There was another highly recruited player in Georgia at the time you may remember,” Malone says, chuckling. “His name was Dominique Wilkins. When he chose Georgia, I chose Mississippi State. After all, I knew there was only going to be one basketball and I wanted my share of the shots.”

At State, he got more than his share. He moved into the starting lineup early in his freshman season, playing for Jim Hatfield on a team with mostly older players. Malone quickly proved too good to ignore.

Later in his State career, Malone played for Bob Boyd, who structured his entire offensive plan around Malone. Howell remembers those seasons fondly.

“We didn’t have a lot other than Jeff, so he ran almost every play trying to run some clock and then get Jeff an open jump shot,” Howell said. It worked because they won a lot of games that way.”

Malone averaged nearly 30 points per game the second half of the SEC season his senior year.

“It was the kind of streak every basketball player dreams about,” Malone says. “It just felt like everything was going to go in the hoop. It definitely gave me the confidence I could play at the next level.”

Malone was a first round NBA draft choice in 1983, the 10th pick of the draft by the Washington Bullets. He made an immediate impact, making the NBA all-rookie team. Later, he was twice an NBA All-Star. He averaged a career-best 24.3 points per game for the Bullets in 1989-90.

He also played for the Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat.

Malone and his family, which includes three sons and a daughter, now live in Chandler, Ariz.

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