Derrick Jones Jr. Seizing Preseason Opportunity with Suns

Barry Gossage
by Cody Cunningham

An unusual path to the pros has led a one-time top recruit to Phoenix, where he is battling to earn his place with the Suns and in the NBA.

Derrick Jones Jr. was one of four players signed to the Suns roster for training camp on Sept. 25. But by practice on Monday, he was the only one of that group who remained. The other three were waived.

“It’s a blessing. I got an opportunity and I’ve got to take full advantage of this opportunity,” Jones said.

At just 19 years old, Jones has had quite a journey to where he is now. Spotted early on as a finesse dunker, Jones won the 2015 American Family Insurance High School Slam Dunk Contest. Averaging 14.2 rebounds and 8.8 blocks per game in high school, Jones was ranked top 10 at his position according to 247sports.com. Being a freak athlete was never up for question.

“He’s the most athletic player on our team,” Head Coach Earl Watson said. “That says a lot with Marquese Chriss sitting right here.”

Jones went on to play at UNLV and was averaging 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game when he was declared ineligible after an ACT testing dispute.

“When my coach told me, it broke my heart,” Jones told ESPN. “I started crying. I just don’t get why they are doing this.”

The situation led to Jones declaring for the draft after just 30 games into his freshman season.

“Things happen in life and you’ve just got to battle through everything,” he said. “Nobody’s guaranteed tomorrow so you’ve got to go out there and give it your all.”

That is exactly what Jones has done so far in order to remain with the Suns.

“He has the potential to be a defender, a three-point shooter, play above the rim,” Watson said. “But he has to get NBA reps, get an NBA work ethic, and that’s what really separates guys from making it and not making it.”

“I know the player I am. I got to do it well,” Jones said. “That was just a bit of adversity I got to battle through. I like my chances where I’m at right now.”

With 16 players on the roster, and only 15 regular season spots up for grabs, Jones and John Jenkins are the only Suns players without guaranteed contracts. If the rookie doesn’t make the NBA squad, he’ll likely spend the season with the Northern Arizona Suns in D-League action as a developmental project.

“Some people label me as a dunker, but that’s just one thing that I do well,” Jones said. “I’m more than a dunker. I’m a basketball player.

“I feel I can hang with the best of them. I’m gonna go out there and once my body develops, I get a lot stronger, my mind comes a long way – the  longer I’m in this league I feel the better I’m gonna get.”

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