Jeremy Jones was looking to transfer, researched potential schools and dialed a phone number that made perfect sense, in theory.
“He called my office,” recalled Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd, “which I never answer.”
Except this time Lloyd picked up his landline, the beginning of a connection that his benefited Jones and the Zags. Lloyd was impressed by their first conversation.
“I thought it was a dad calling to talk about his son,” Lloyd said. “He was so mature and well-spoken. He’d watched us play because he’s from the San Antonio-Houston area, when we were in the Elite Eight” in 2015 against Duke at Houston’s NRG Stadium.
Interest is one thing. Coming to a program without an open scholarship is another. Lloyd was upfront, explaining GU’s scholarship situation and offering no guarantees.
Jones was still interested. He was looking for a landing spot after a year at Rice as a redshirt quarterback in football and a promising season in basketball (two starts, and often the first player off the bench).
“We talked a little bit, it led to Tommy asking for my tape, and I sent it right away,” Jones said. “He called me back and wanted to talk to my parents and high school coach. I came up to visit. I actually had a couple of visits (set up) to other places, but me and my dad thought this was the best fit.”
The fit has never looked better than Jones’ impact at the Maui Invitational. The third-ranked Zags, who are in the running to move up to No. 1, were muddling along against Illinois in last Monday’s opener. GU was alternating between turnovers and easy baskets. Jones brought none of the former and plenty of the latter, not to mention a sense of calm.
The 6-foot-7 senior was summoned at the 15:11 mark, earlier than usual, and snagged the first of his seven first-half rebounds 40 seconds later. He hit a layup and added a putback basket.
He returned later, with GU nursing a three-point lead, and contributed another layup and putback. His 3-pointer put the Zags on top 39-32 at half.
Jones kept hitting the glass in the second half and, fittingly, nailed two free throws to put a tense victory on ice.
“That’s the story you literally root for and want when you’re a coach,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “He might have had a frustrating career up to that point, but if he would just hang with it, that moment’s going to present itself, and we have had so many guys over the years do that. I couldn’t be happier for Jeremy.”
Jones, who has been on scholarship for 2 1/2 seasons, was solid in ensuing wins against Arizona and Duke. He averaged 7.7 points and 7 boards in Maui.
Few has encouraged Jones to fill something of a Mike Hart role, bringing energy, hustle, intangibles, defense and rebounding. Jones did all of the above, and showed an ability to score.
Jones sat out one season under transfer rules, saw minimal time on the deep 2017 squad and logged 6.5 minutes per game last season. He’s basically been the fourth big this season following Killian Tillie’s ankle surgery.
Jones averages 5.7 points and 5 rebounds in 14.5 minutes. He’s 10 of 12 from the field, including 3 of 3 on 3-pointers. He’s fourth in rebounding while being eighth in minutes.
He has described his role as “doing whatever the team needs me to do, the same thing as what my role was before (Tillie’s injury).”
Jones was a two-time All-District basketball selection and second-team All-District football as a senior at San Antonio’s East Central High. His father Michael played football at Houston, and older brother Michael played for Sam Houston State.
“I miss it a little if I’m physically at a football game,” said Jones, who doesn’t miss the bumps and bruises. “I’m happy with what I’m doing.”
The Zags feel the same way.
“It’s a pretty cool story,” Lloyd said.
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