by David Cassilo | Photos courtesy of Matthew Minard/Baylor University Marketing & Communications

A lot of people like to talk about Baylor’s Perry Jones III. The scouts fawn over his oozing potential. The powers that be say he’s yet another student-athlete to break NCAA rules. The fans call him crazy for coming back to school for another year.

Normally a quiet, reserved kid, the 20-year-old Jones actually has a lot to say about these things. So let’s give him the floor.

Why are you coming back?

“Being suspended made me want to come back even more because I never got to play in the postseason, and that was something I wanted to experience,” Jones says. “I’m still here, and if things don’t go the way I want to this year, then I’ll come back another year.”

His longer than expected tenure in Waco encapsulates exactly what he is right now—a project. Just a hair short of 7-0, the native Texan has the proper basketball frame but is still learning the game. Originally a football player, he didn’t exchange his cleats for sneakers until 7th grade.

“I wasn’t good at basketball at all then,” Jones says. “I couldn’t chew gum and dribble up the court without falling.”

While he says he still has “too much room for improvement” and “a long way to go,” Jones’ freshman season had its moments. The point forward averaged 13.9 ppg and 7.2 rpg, mixing in greatness (most notably a 27-point game against Texas A&M) with inconsistency.

“Sometimes he’ll come out of nowhere with a nice dunk, and I’ll be like, man, why don’t you do that all the time?” says SMU forward Shawn Williams, a teammate of Jones’ at Duncanville (TX) High School.

But Jones’ up-and-down season was abruptly cut short just hours before his team’s Big 12 Tournament opener against Oklahoma, when Jones was suspended by the NCAA for improper benefits his family received.

Although he now calmly cites the incident as a motivation for returning, it was a huge blow at the time. “I was upset,” Jones says. “My family and I, we struggled. We [still] struggle now.”

Two years prior to enrolling at Baylor, Jones’ AAU coach, Lawrence Johns, made three payments totaling no more than $1,000 to Jones’ mother, Terri, to help her pay her mortgage. She has since paid him back.

“Any human with any type of brain would know if we didn’t get the mortgage, we’d be on the streets,” Jones says. “I wouldn’t be at Baylor. I’d probably be selling drugs or something.”

Jones describes his family as “financially challenged.” His father, Perry Jones Jr, spent significant time unemployed, while his mother was diagnosed with a heart condition when Jones was in eighth grade that prevented her from working, too.

Immediately before his mother asked for the loan, Jones said his family did not have a home and were having a tough time making ends meet.

“I love my parents,” Jones says. “None of this is their fault. Any human being, if they see a family member struggling, I’m pretty sure they would help them. I guess since I’m going to college, it’s a violation.”

While Jones’ parents had their struggles, raising Perry was not one of them. A humble and sharing kid off the court, he’s almost too nice on it.

“In practice, he’ll knock a player down on the opposing team and instead of finishing the play, he’s helping him up,” says Baylor head coach Scott Drew.

Drew could see that family was important to Jones from the first time they met. Jones brought his mother with him for support on his first visit to Baylor, and Drew took note of how attentive the prized recruit was.

“How a player treats his mom is normally how they are going to treat the coach,” Drew says. “When he left, I was like, that was a young man raised right.”

While Jones will be back with Drew for at least one more season, he has his sights set on the League—and on supporting his family.

“That would mean more than anything,” Jones says. “To keep my mom happy and make sure she has no worries and to keep my dad happy. We all know how hard it was growing up. I don’t want them to experience that ever again.”

Eventually making the League and a steady living are the basic goals, but Jones says he won’t be content to just make it to the pros. The young man of few words hopes to finish his playing days with a story worth telling.

“I want to be a superstar,” he says. “I want to tell my kids and grandkids about how a superstar’s life was in the NBA.”