Denton: Magic Keep Jones; Waive Harper, Q-Rich
By John Denton
October 27, 2012
ORLANDO – The NBA Draft is usually a night when dreams are made for high-flying, 6-foot-8 forwards with ambitions of long professional basketball careers. But for DeQuan Jones, that night last June was one that was both nightmarish and – in a twisted sort of way – the start of his dreamy climb to the NBA.
When he went undrafted back in June, Jones made a vow to himself that if he ever did get a shot at the NBA that he would make the most of the opportunity and show teams what they had missed out on.
That opportunity came from the Orlando Magic in the form of being a non-roster invitee to training camp, and Jones lived up to the promise he made to himself by shining throughout summer league and NBA’s eight-game preseason. Jones, 22, was so good that he got assurances from the Magic that he will be on the squad’s 15-man roster for Opening Night on Friday against the Denver Nuggets.
``Doing what I have done, it’s a testament to my willpower,’’ said Jones, a product of the University of Miami. ``Really, I made a promise to myself that (draft) night that this wouldn’t ever happen again. I’ve put in countless hours in the gym and have been working hard. It was extremely disappointing not getting drafted that night, but it made me who I am and it helped me take a lot of strides character-wise.’’
When the Magic waived veteran small forward Quentin Richardson, second-year forward Justin Harper and rookie guard Chris Johnson, it cleared the path for Jones to claim a spot on the Magic’s roster. Orlando thought so much of Jones that they waived Richardson and the $5.4 million he’s owed the next two years so that they could keep the athletic rookie wing player. Even after he had been told he was on the roster, Jones was still in awe of his unlikely climb from undrafted free-agent to finally being a full-fledged NBA player.
``Going through this whole NBA experience, it’s surreal,’’ said Jones, whose Magic have a week to practice before opening the regular season on Friday. ``It’s like a dream that I hope I don’t ever wake up from.’’
With veteran forward Al Harrington (knee surgery) and first-round draft pick Maurice Harkless (sports hernia surgery) out this preseason Jones got a chance to prove himself to the Magic coaching staff. Those coaches convinced Jones that he would be best served to play defense, do the dirty work of rebounding and diving for loose balls as a way to make the roster. Using his off-the-charts athleticism and strength, Jones showed that he could be a solid defender and an opportunistic scorer because of his willingness to attack the basket.
Jones’ fearlessness and attention to detail caught the eye of Magic coach Jacque Vaughn, who fought to keep the rookie on the roster.
``It’s just his being able to get to the rim, his athleticism, his right- and left-handed finishes and his ability to put pressure on the defense by filling lanes (on the fastbreak),’’ Vaughn said. ``He’s done a good job of maximizing his skill set. Defensively, we all have our challenges, but he’s grown as a basketball player. He’s done a good job.’’
Jones’ hustle and muscle made him an instant hit with Magic fans, whom have been quite vocal in their desire to see the small forward make the Opening Night roster. One fan site even dubbed the hype around Jones’ unexpected rise as, ``DeQuandemonium.’’ And with each thunderous dunk – he had three of them Friday night in a 16-point effort against the Houston Rockets – his legend grew even stronger in Orlando.
Jones’ pleasant demeanor and willingness also made him a favorite among the veteran players who worked with him to teach him the NBA ropes. But his greenhorn nature did show itself during an exhibition game in Cincinnati when he went over and shook hands with the refs following pregame introductions, a la college and high school players. His teammamtes ribbed him incessantly about the move, but have taken to the good-natured rookie.
Cracked Jones: ``I would have to say my favorite moment was going back to (Cincinnati) and shaking the referees’ hands. That’s something that I’ll never, ever forget.’’
And never, ever will he forget how he went turned his despair on the night of the NBA Draft to delight after learning he had played his way onto the Magic’s regular-season roster.
``I just wanted to show them here that this is where I belong and that I can play at this level,’’ Jones said emphatically. ``This preseason has been a learning process for me and I’ve been trying to pick up things from the veteran leaders and Coach Vaughn. … I feel like I did it. My intent was to come out and play hard and play to the best of my abilities. At the end of the day, I feel like I can lay my head down knowing that I did that.’’
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John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. John has covered the Magic since 1997. E-mail John at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @JohnDenton555.
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