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Texas’ Kai Jones, Greg Brown, Jericho Sims all get the call in UT’s best NBA Draft since 2011

Texas' Kai Jones shows his joy after being selected 19th overall in Thursday night's NBA draft. Fellow Longhorns Greg Brown III and Jericho Sims also were taken, making it the first time since 2011 that UT had three players drafted in the same year.

Kai Jones ran the floor so well at Texas because he grew up running track in the Bahamas.

Jones was cut from the local basketball team there for three straight seasons, from seventh to ninth grade. But he still fell in love with basketball at age 15 and started watching LeBron James when he played in Cleveland.

Jones kept working, kept growing, kept getting better, and Thursday night, Texas' 6-foot-11 forward dunked on all those who thought it would never work out. Jones was chosen 19th overall in the NBA draft and is now part of the Charlotte Hornets.

In the second round, UT freshman Greg Brown III was taken 43rd overall by the Portland Trailblazers. Then, with the 58th pick, the New York Knicks snapped up senior big man Jericho Sims.

It was the first time three Longhorns were taken in the same draft since Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton and Cory Joseph all went in the first round in 2011. 

“This rapid rise goes to God and just my work ethic,” Jones said immediately afterward. He was wearing a New York Knicks hat on the stage in Brooklyn, but the Hornets traded a first-round pick to acquire him at No. 19.

“Man, I’m super excited. It’s a huge blessing,” Jones said. “Many people from the Bahamas don't get to be in this position, so I’m really excited, man. I’m super blessed.”

The Longhorns have produced a first-round draft pick in five of the past seven years. He’s the 19th first-rounder in UT history.

Jones was something of a project when he signed with coach Shaka Smart. But the coaching staff loved his incredible athleticism and positive attitude, two major traits important to Smart. 

Jones averaged just 3.6 points as a freshman. Then as a sophomore, he moved into an expanded role as the team’s sixth man and saw exponential growth. He averaged 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds last season, numbers that won’t turn many heads. 

But if you watched the Horns and zeroed in on Jones, it was clear his best basketball days are yet to come.

Jones finished in double figures in five of the last six games of the regular season and wound up shooting 38.2% from 3-point range.

“University of Texas is a first-class school. We work really hard there,” Jones said. “Coach has held us bigs to a standard every time we come through. So it's a huge blessing. 

Texas forward Greg Brown III celebrates a play with former Longhorns coach Shaka Smart against TCU last season. The freshman was taken in the second round of the NBA draft.

“I know some of the guys who are already in the NBA,” Jones added. “I have a relationship with them. It's going to be huge for me moving forward, just being able to talk to them about their experiences, learn from them and compete against them, too.”

Brown is considered to have tremendous upside even though he struggled in his lone season at UT. The Vandegrift High School product averaged 9.3 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 42% overall. 

He finished the season ranked ninth in the Big 12 in total rebounds and had all kinds of solid defensive numbers. But his attitude soured as the season progressed, and he got so upset at the Big 12 Tournament, he left the bench area during a game. That prompted Smart to effectively bench him. 

Still, Brown was viewed as a project worth taking a risk on, even though his offensive game needs work. 

Sims dazzled NBA scouts during the run-up to the draft. But some probably had a hard time trying to read his personality. He's one of the quietest athletes you’ll ever come across, but he’s competitive as anyone. 

Sims, a four-year player at Texas, started off averaging 5.2 points as a freshman and finished with 9.2 points and 7.2 rebounds as a senior. His footwork and above-the-rim leaping ability were phenomenal at times. Most of Sims’ points came off dunks; he shot 63.9% overall. 

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.