An unusual path to the pros has led a one-time top recruit to Phoenix. His next stop? New Orleans, to participate in the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest.
Derrick Jones Jr. was one of four players signed to the Suns roster for training camp this season, but by the home opener, he was the only one of that group who remained.
Derrick Jones Jr. on Journey to Slam Dunk Contest
“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 Jones to declare for the draft after playing just 30 games of 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.”
After showing off his athleticism in the D-League, Jones accepted an invitation to participate in the All-Star Weekend festivities.
“It’s a secret, but you’re going to like what you see. You’re going to love it. It’s going to be something you’ve never seen before.”
— Derrick Jones Jr.
“They told me they were thinking about my name being considered in the dunk contest,” Jones said. “I told them if they want me to do it, then I’m going to 100 percent. I’m happy to be in it. I’m going to put on a show for real.”
Jones will be the seventh Suns player to compete in the dunk contest; Larry Nance (1984*, 1985), Tim Perry (1989), Kenny Battle (1990), Cedric Ceballos (1992*, 1993), Michael Finley (1996), and Amar’e Stoudemire (2003, 2005).
*Denotes Slam Dunk Contest Champion
The journey may not have been easy, but Jones has battled his way through the adversity.
“This is all surreal since the beginning of the season,” Jones said. “Everything has been like a blur to me. I went from getting ruled ineligible in college for ATC Scores to leaving school early, to not being drafted, to not playing summer league, to coming here and making the Phoenix Suns roster.”
“I’m participating in All-Star Weekend, as a rookie, undrafted rookie. Doing something that I love doing. It’s just a blessing.”
The Verizon Slam Dunk Contest will take place on Feb. 18 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. Teammates Devin Booker and Marquese Chriss will also be participating in the weekend’s festivities as part of the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. Booker will also be competing in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge.
When asked what dunks fans can expect, Jones said “It’s a secret, but you’re going to like what you see. You’re going to love it. It’s going to be something you’ve never seen before.”