For a dude on the upswing, Terrence Jones just had a pretty tough year. His third season in the L was marred by a leg injury (which cost him nearly three months) and a partially collapsed lung (nearly two weeks). He managed to recover from the latter in time for the postseason, where he averaged 10 and 5 in about 24 minutes per game.
But don’t be fooled—his ceiling is much higher than that. He blocked shots at a rate on par with Andre Drummond when healthy last season, and is primed to capitalize on the extra minutes he’ll receive following Josh Smith’s likely departure. It’d be a well-timed breakout for the Portland, OR native, as he hits restricted free agency at season’s end next summer.
We caught up with Oregon’s two-time Mr. Basketball to discuss those scary injuries as well as the good stuff—you know, like playing alongside Dwight Howard and surprising his mom with a Cadillac.
SLAM: You’re running a Pro Am in Portland this summer. It’s the first time you’re doing it, right?
Terrence Jones: Definitely the first year, and hopefully many more after this. It’s something the community and the city has really been supporting since it began, and I’m just happy that it gives a lot of kids the opportunity to be up close and personal with different types of heroes in their lives. Hopefully it’ll give them a reason to get out there and be a little more active. With everyone on social media, it’s getting real difficult to get kids out there and having fun.
SLAM: You also run a youth camp?
TJ: Yeah—I love working with kids. I got a camp coming up here in Portland which gives the kids a chance to really learn skills from me as an NBA player that they look up to. Hopefully it can help bring the game of basketball in Portland to another level.
SLAM: When did you think that you had a shot to play basketball professionally?
TJ: Those AAU games—playing against guys from places I’d never been to, getting a chance to climb the national ranks—I wanted to be able to do that and have guys notice me. Seeing all the nationally ranked guys on the East Coast… I was crazy about how they had nobody on the West Coast like that.
SLAM: What position did you play back then?
TJ: I was actually playing point guard, and I was playing with Terrence Ross. He was like the wing shooter, I was like the point guard playmaker, and we just tried to get the job done. It was cool.
SLAM: Kentucky recruited Anthony Davis (and more) for your sophomore season, and obviously you guys went on to win the title that season. Were you like a veteran presence on that young roster?
TJ: Man, I mean just coming that close [the season prior] and coming up short built a burn in my stomach that made me wanna come in that summer and go hard. I think that really helped AD and [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] to see the passion and the play I was willing to give in the summer time, when they had just gotten to college not even three weeks ago. The chemistry was real noticeable—I appreciated how hard they worked and they’re my brothers to this day.
SLAM: What was it like practicing against Davis that season?
TJ: Man, he was so long and athletic and skinny. I didn’t know how to try to go at him at first. It was fun playing on the same team as him rather than going against him, lemme tell you that. Throwing alley-oops to him so easily, and him just coming over the top to block a shot to get us out in transition—we had a lot of fun.
SLAM: Just before the Draft, you bought your mom a Cadillac. Were you fulfilling an old promise or was that a total surprise?
TJ: Total surprise for her, man. I wasn’t even here when she got it—I had to see it on video, which is on the internet. It was the first time I ever got any money and I knew my mom had had two cars ever in her life—like a Honda and a Camry. Just all the sacrifices she has always done for anybody she knows—me, my family—it’s just amazing to see, and I love that about her. I would do anything I could to make her as happy as possible.
SLAM: The Blazers held the Nos. 6 and 11 picks in the 2012 Draft. Were you hoping to go back home and play in Portland?
TJ: At that point, I was just nervous. I didn’t have any clue who was gonna pick me. I was nervous on every slot until 18—that was a relief. The day you make your dream come true, you’re gonna have all those emotions running through you—you’re not worried about exactly which team it is.
SLAM: You spent a lot of time in the D-League as a rookie. How frustrating was that?
TJ: At first it was a little confusing. I was just trying to work as hard as possible, do everything extra, be there extra, and I’m like, “Why do I keep getting sent down to the D-League?” I started talking to my vets and they’re like, “This is usually what you have to go through to prepare yourself mentally and just get better to be out here with the pros.” Coach McHale is a great coach and he definitely believes in helping the rookies get more experience by going to the D-League first. I respect the NBA, so I had no problem with going and getting better.
SLAM: Dwight Howard joined the Rockets before your second season with the team. How much easier does he make your job on the floor?
TJ: It makes it a lot easier. It’s almost playing like with a stronger Anthony Davis in the way he protects you on the strong side of the rim, and the way you can toss it up to him on the offensive end. When they’re rolling to the basket, the ball can go almost anywhere to them. And the way they come on the defensive end to block shots, it’s almost twin-like sometimes for me.
SLAM: This season—your third—you suffered a really strange leg injury that knocked you out for about three months. What happened and what was the rehab process like?
TJ: Honestly I didn’t know what it was. I thought I had broken one of my toes or something, ‘cause I couldn’t move my foot. I had to keep asking the doctors like, “Why can’t I move my foot?” It kept getting higher and higher, and it was a lot on me mentally and physically. I had to watch [Houston’s games] and not be able to do what I love to do for two months.
SLAM: Were you worried about your long-term health? Your career?
TJ: Definitely. I definitely at one point was scared. I couldn’t get any answers from doctors. I couldn’t move my leg. It had been about two and a half weeks and I was still in the hospital with no answers. My family came out and eventually I got back out there and I’m just happy to be able to do that.
SLAM: How long could you not move your leg?
TJ: I didn’t get to move for the first month. The second month was when I started to get a lot more mobility. Like Week 4 I was just able to move my toes off the ground or lift my heel up.
SLAM: Then you suffered a lung/rib injury shortly after returning.
TJ: Yeah, I had a partially collapsed lung. I made a hustle play trying to dive for the ball, and a guy kneed between my ribs and punched a little hole in my lung. I couldn’t breathe—kinda like when guys get hit in the stomach and you lose your wind. That’s pretty much how I felt, just a little bit longer. Then it got a little better and I played through it. Injuries are going to happen sometimes and you gotta play through them and do what you love.
SLAM: You guys pulled off an amazing comeback in the postseason, digging out of a 3-1 hole against the Clippers. What was the key? Any big emotional speeches in the locker room?
TJ: Not too many emotional speeches—just a couple emotional phrases. We pretty much knew we had let a couple go, and that we were over there thinking too much and giving up on each other. The motto just became “One Game,” and whatever happens happens. We just kept eking out one game at a time until the series was over.
SLAM: You’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. I’m sure you’d like to say that you’re not worried about it and you’ll let it play out. But obviously the cap is going to spike, and it seems like every good restricted free agent gets maxed out these days. Are you following that stuff? Are you looking forward to free agency?
TJ: For me personally, I’m watching for guys that I played with and know, like Enes Kanter—that was my teammate my freshman year. I’m happy for him and his family. Brandon Knight as well. I just get happy when I see guys that I know be able to take care of their families and live a little more comfortably. It’s great. We have the same dreams, same goals, and that’s to do what we love and take care of the people we love. Anybody that I know that reaches that goal, I’m happy for. Hopefully I can get that done for myself next year.
Leo Sepkowitz is an Editorial Assistant at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @LeoSepkowitz. Photo via Getty Images.