CHICAGO — Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and a host of basketball’s who’s-who assembled inside the Quest Multisport gym on Thursday for the annual NBA scouting combine.
Plenty of skeptics back home believe Texas freshman Andrew Jones had no business being there. And yet, there he was, wearing gray Under Armour clothing and fulfilling a league invitation just like everyone else.
Fellow UT freshman Jarrett Allen is in Chicago, too, but chose to skip the public workouts. He and Jones are roommates at the InterContinental on the Magnificent Mile, where NBA executives are having meetings with all interested parties.
To all interested Longhorns who question why Jones would enter his name into the NBA draft, he’s heard your criticisms. He saw that ESPN story saying he’s one of those underclassmen who should stay in school. To everyone who thinks he should return to Austin for another year, he understands.
“If I hear enough feedback that staying in the draft will benefit and help me crack the first round and not slide down to the second round, then I’ll stay,” Jones said.
Everyone must walk their own path, something Isaiah Taylor said before leaving UT possibly one year too early. But Taylor spent the season with Houston’s D-League affiliate and eventually got called up by the Rockets prior to the playoffs. Only Jones can determine what’s right for him.
“There’s a ton of quote-unquote ‘information’ out there,” said UT coach Shaka Smart, who watched the proceedings with assistant Jai Lucas. “The key is really simple. You only focus on the information from people who have an actual pick.
“How many people are in this gym?,” Smart asked, looking around the hectic scene. “There are loads of people who don’t have a pick. And then there’s Magic Johnson, who is the president of the Lakers. He has a pick.”
Oh, there’s definitely a lot of information out there. At the moment, DraftExpress.com projects Allen going 13th overall to the Nuggets. Jones is not listed in that site’s predictions. The NBA draft is only two rounds.
“I’ve had guys that say, ‘Look, I’m second round and I’m good,’” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “I just give ’em a hug and say OK.”
Smart would probably bearhug Jones if he could. The UT coaching staff envisions Jones being a team leader next season while highly-touted freshman Matt Coleman takes over at point guard.
Maybe the timing isn’t right for Jones to leave now. He averaged 11.4 points and shot 42.5 percent last season for a team that went 11-22. But it’s clear that the talented guard — who measured 6 feet, 3 inches tall without shoes along with a 6 foot, 6 1/2-inch wingspan — is on the right path.
In shooting drills, he made 80 percent of his shots while breaking to the right, which tied for first. He hit 74 percent, the fourth-highest total, while on the move from 15 feet. He shot 80 percent from the left corner and 60 percent from the top of the key.
During Thursday’s game, Jones scored six points, had five assists and three turnovers in 20 minutes.
Jones said his family is financially stable, so there’s no need for money. His father, David, is in a wheelchair after surviving a harrowing car crash that crushed two vertebrae. Andrew, who was 7 at the time, was ejected from the car during the wreck but suffered only a bruised hip. His sister, Alexis, was just selected 12th overall in April’s WNBA draft.
Let’s not deny the obvious. Jones could be a standout NBA prospect at some point. It’s simply unclear whether that time is now.
“I’m just enjoying the process,” he said. “Everything his new, surreal and I’m enjoying it. It’s a learning experience. Didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but I did other things that don’t particularly show up in the stat sheets. Tomorrow I’m going to bring that same aggressiveness and just focus in more.”
Jones has already had workouts with the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder. He’ll be back for more work on Friday and will talk to any team out there. Per NCAA rules, all underclassmen have 10 days after the combine to withdraw their name, should they want to go back.
If Jones does return to Austin, it seems he’ll have a laser-like focus on getting back to the combine and be eager to go further.
“Right now, I’m just focusing on the now,” Jones said. “I’m here, I’m going to enjoy it, go through the process and toward the end of my last workouts, I’ll make my decision.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.