But no matter what kind of stats he put up in high school or prep school, Jones knew deep down that he was simply “going through the motions.”
“Coming out of prep school … I was kind of lazy,” Jones said. “I wasn’t serious about [basketball]. I was kind of passive, but I always thought I had the talent and mindset to play. I just didn’t put in the work.”
Jones’ recruitment reflected his lackadaisical attitude toward the game. He eventually settled on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, a Southland Conference school far away from the bright lights of major college basketball. But after three seasons with the Islanders, Jones will finally have his shot at a more high-profile college hoops existence this year at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
“First off, it’s pretty much a bigger stage than Corpus Christi,” said Jones, who earned his bachelor’s degree at TAMCC and is pursuing a master’s degree in health education at UAB. “The expectations here are a lot higher. Here with the history and the things that people expect are way above what people expected at Corpus Christi. This school has a great history. They have a lot of championship banners here, a lot of conference championship banners. The expectations are higher and the motivation is at a high level.”
Although his college career started off slow, Jones emerged during the 2011-12 season as one of Baltimore’s best. Jones redshirted his freshman year in Corpus Christi, averaged 5.8 points the following season and put up 8.9 points per game as a redshirt sophomore. His redshirt junior season, however, was the breakout campaign he was looking for. Jones started 29 of 30 games, averaging a team-high 13.7 points. A change in work ethic made all the difference.
"I guess [I started working hard after] seeing the guys I played with and against [in Baltimore], and the level that they went," Jones said. "Knowing my potential and talent that I had compared against theirs, it’s a work ethic thing, a mindset type thing. It never had nothing to do with talent. Just thinking about them made me realize that I’ve just got to change. Once I changed things, it got better for me."
Jones, who shot 36 percent from 3-point range last season, scored a game-high 26 points (9-for-19 shooting) in a seven-point loss to Texas Tech. In a loss to West Virginia, Jones poured in 20 points (6-for-9 from the field). Performances like that made the former Lakers start believe he could play at a higher level. Because he earned his bachelor’s degree at TAMCC, Jones was able to take advantage of the NCAA rule that allows fifth-year players with diplomas to play immediately at other DI schools.
“My main thing is winning and playing on a bigger stage for more exposure and more recognition,” Jones said. “But also go somewhere that fits my style of play. I can be a great piece of the success the team has. Not just a fit-in player, but I felt good here. Coming on my visit, I still feel good about the decision I made.”
Jones, who chose UAB over DePaul, Penn State, Tennessee Tech and Virginia Tech, is expected to play a major role for the Blazers under first-year coach Jerod Haase.
“They expect me to be a leader, being a fifth-year player that’s been through certain situations,” Jones said. “From talking to [the coaching staff], they expect me to come in, pretty much play well and keep everybody together.”
For a guy that played for a program that won just 16 games over the past two seasons, Jones can’t wait for the chance to suit up for a winner. Granted, that’s not a given for UAB, which finished the 2011-12 season with a 15-16 record and dismissed coach Mike Davis with a year left on his contract. But Haase and the rest of the Blazers coaching staff have high hopes for this season. A big year from Jones would go a long way toward UAB reaching its goals.
“We don’t want to wait and see what’s going to happen,” Jones said. “We want to be good this year. We all talk about it. We want to come in and make an impact right away. It’s kind of different because of the style of play and the coaches this year. We want to run and gun, get up and down the court. Pressure the ball on defense. Last year, from what I know, it was more of a half-court, slow-down type of game. Everyone was adjusting. [But with] a whole new playing set, we want to be good this year. We don’t want to wait.”
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.