JuCo Spotlight: Chris Jones
Former Tennessee signee/coaches find success at Florida JuCo.
by Brad Winton / @JuCorecruiting
Chris Jones was one of the top-50 players in the United States in the 2011 high school class and one of the best point guards in the country. The Memphis native was all set to join Bruce Pearl at Tennessee before Pearl was fired for recruiting violations and lying to the NCAA.
Jones, who was signed to a national letter of intent with Tennessee, was eventually released and able to move on. He was recruited to Tennessee by Steve Forbes who was an assistant for Bruce Pearl. Pearl’s entire staff was removed when he was fired. Forbes, who started his coaching career at the JuCo level, landed the head coaching job at Northwest Florida State.
NW Florida State is a Division I junior college in the tough and rugged Panhandle Conference. Forbes brought along fellow former Tennessee assistant Jason Shay to join him at NW Florida. Along with Forbes and Shay, Brooks Savage joined the staff as well. Savage spent time on the Tennessee staff and also spent a year on Tulane’s staff. Jones followed their lead and headed south to the Florida panhandle.
Jones discussed the transition from being a Tennessee signee to playing at a junior college: “I feel like there is a plan for everyone, and I just had to be mature about it and make the best of it. Coach Forbes had been recruiting me to Tennessee since ninth grade and I felt very comfortable with him,” Jones said.
In a time when many prep schools are being shut down and red flagged by the NCAA, junior college basketball is on the rise again and is proving to be a valuable vehicle to gain experience, get more exposure and get things in order academically.
Jones elaborated on why he chose going the JuCo route over heading to a post-grad. He stated, “The trust I had in Coach Forbes was very important in my decision and I wanted to gain national notoriety. I also wanted to play in a physical league.”
Jones got everything he wanted and more. He had a staff that had plenty of Division I experience, some of the best facilities in the country and national notoriety. Jones helped guide Northwest Florida State to a 29-1 regular-season record and a National Runner-Up finish in the NJCAA DI National Tournament. Along the way, he averaged 18 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists per game and garnered Florida Panhandle Conference Player of the Year honors.
“He is the ‘straw that stirs the drink,’” explained Forbes, about Jones has meant to this year’s team. “He’s been a facilitator for others and has made big baskets for our team throughout the year. His passion and his will to win has rubbed off on the rest of our team. It’s always a blessing when your best player is your hardest worker and he is our hardest worker.”
Jones developed on and off the court. When asked what he has learned and how he has developed after his first year of JuCo, Jones responded, “This level and the coaches have taught me a lot. I’ve learned to play a more physical style of game. It has also taught me how to stay mentally strong on and off the court. I’ve become a more mature player and person.” Jones also spoke about his development as point guard. He added, “I’ve learned how to be a leader and how to keep my teammates happy. I have always been and will be a scoring guard, but I’ve learned how to score and distribute.”
Forbes also spoke about Jones’ development: “His greatest strength, being highly competitive, has in the past been his biggest weakness. He has learned to manage the highs and lows that take place throughout a season, a game and a practice. He’s learned to become more consistent with his effort on and off the floor.”
While Jones had an explosive year in junior college, many wonder how he would have done as a freshman in the SEC. SLAMonline asked Forbes how he thought Jones would have performed this season at Tennessee had everything worked out.
“We recruited him to be a starter from Day 1,” Forbes said. “He possessed the DNA to compete and contribute as a freshman in the SEC. In my mind, he would have been in the upper half of the PGs in the SEC as a freshman. There’s always a learning curve for freshman, but he had the passion, the poise and the purpose to compete at a very high level from the moment he (would have) stepped on campus at UT.”
Forbes also spoke on how Jones ranks all-time in comparison to the players that he has been fortunate enough to coach.
“I’ve been very blessed to have coached some outstanding players throughout my career,” Forbes explained. “Acie Law (Texas A&M) was a NCAA First-Team All-American and an NBA Lottery Pick. Brandun Hughes (Barton County/Michigan) and Bobby Maze (Hutch/Tennessee) were First-Team JC All-Americans. Chris is definitely in that category. He has the ability and the desire to play in the NBA and it wouldn’t surprise me if he did.”
Pro basketball is one of the many things that motivates Jones.
“I want to play with the best,” Jones said. “I want to get paid to do this when I’m done with college. I need to play at the highest level possible. That’s why I workout every day at 6 a.m. It keeps me going.”
The NBA may be an attainable goal for Jones, but he has one more year of junior college and then has to sift through a plethora of schools recruiting him. Jones knows what he wants in a school.
“I’m looking for a team that fits my style of play. I’m a winner and I’m going to win at the next level. I want a team that lets me play an up-tempo game,” Jones said.
Jones will be one of the most heavily recruited junior college players in years and has plenty of options.
“Chris is getting interest from top programs all over the country,” Forbes said. “He has offers from the Big East, Big 12, SEC, ACC and Big Ten. He plans on going through the recruiting process and finding a school, a style of play and a coaching staff that best fits him to be successful as a student athlete.”
When asked who was recruiting him, Jones said, “Everyone in the country.” Enough said.
Brad Winton is a former college/pro coach. He runs JuCoRecruiting.com as well as The JuCo Recruiting Report, a scouting service that provides recruiting information to colleges and universities. Follow him on Twitter @JuCorecruiting. Email Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org.