Photo: Tre Jones
By Tom Shanahan, Special to the Wilson Times
Duke’s Tre Jones joined a video chat with the media on Friday about his decision to declare for the NBA draft. Such an interview normally covers thoughts on the trainers he is working with and what teams want him to schedule a workout.
But these aren’t normal times with the COVID-19 pandemic. Before Jones answered any "sports" questions he voiced support for medical workers and first-responders across the country.
Jones returned home to Apple Valley, Minn., once Duke closed its campus and has been staying at his brother’s house. Tyus, who led Duke to the 2015 NCAA title and declared for the NBA after his freshman season, also had his NBA season with the Memphis Grizzlies shut down.
They work out, naturally, but the brothers also share a life-and-death task of running grocery store trips and other errands for their mother and grandmother. Both have underlying health concerns regarding the coronavirus -- their grandmother for her age and their mother due to reduced immune system deficiency from battling breast cancer last year.
“We don’t want them going out,” Jones said. “You never know what the future holds, and we’re all seeing that now. We’re spending valuable time with people close to us. We know how serious things can get. It was serious enough for sports to be canceled. Our family is taking it serious. We’re trying to stay safe, stay home and be patient until everyone can get back on the same page.”
Jones said he hasn’t received feedback from NBA teams yet, but he has consistently ranked as second-round pick in the middle to the late choices. How much of those rankings have taken into account his improved jump shot remains to be seen.
After playing his freshman season through shoulder and hip injuries, he returned for his sophomore year for another shot an NCAA title and to focus on showing improvement in his game beyond his established defensive prowess and ability to see the court leading fast breaks.
“I think that starting off with just leadership,” he said of this year’s goals. “It was something that coach always talked to me about even in recruitment before I got there. All the coaches helped me with my leadership this year. I feel like through adversity and through the ups and downs, they were all just trying to bring the most out of me as far as leadership goes.
“I feel like being a vocal leader is something that I grew a lot in this year, just trying to talk more whether it’s in the locker room, on the court, practice, games – whatever it was, just trying to talk more, be more of a vocal leader. I had to just let my actions do the leadership.
“I feel like a lot of different aspects in my game grew this year. I feel like I was able to show that I can shoot the ball much better than I did last year. I think that was one of the biggest things that I improved on this year.”
Jones, a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder, and freshman center Vernon Carey, who hasn’t announced plans for next year, earned All-American honors, with Carey on the second team and Jones on the third.
In the ACC, Jones was the ACC Player of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year.
Jones was honorable mention as a freshman when Duke’s offense was dominated by one-on-one play from R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cam Reddish, all of them one-and-done NBA draft picks. When he spoke about showing his leadership this season, it included being the focal point of the offense this year.
Something else Jones said in the interview was reassuring that college sports still has some purity despite the lure of NBA money.
A year ago, Zion Williamson injured his knee late in the season and was immediately inundated with advice from outsiders, including former NBA players, to not come back for the NCAA Tournament to preserve his draft stock.
Jones dealt with that to a lesser extent when he returned from his shoulder and hip injuries to finish out the season, even though the Blue Devils fell short of a national championship with an the Elite Eight loss to Michigan State.
This past season North Carolina freshman point guard Cole Anthony, a projected lottery pick, suffered a knee injury early in the season. Throughout his rehab, he denied speculation that he had shut down his season for the NBA draft. He returned in February and finished the season.
“I think people off with that type of advice,” Jones said. “Anyone in that position knows how it feels to be out and not able to play the game of basketball. We love the game and we all want to play. Injuries go with the game, but you never want to miss games. Anyone who loves the game wants to come back once they get healthy.”
Jones' departure follows junior guard/forward Alex O'Connell's recent announcement he is entering the transfer portal. His departure leaves six returning scholarship players, although Vernon Carey's expected NBA announcement likely drops the total to five. With six incoming scholarship freshmen, the Blue Devils are well within the NCAA scholarship limit of 13.
Tom Shanahan is freelance writer based in Cary and author of Raye of Light, a book featuring Fayetteville’s Jimmy Raye as a pioneering black quarterback for College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty on Michigan State’s Underground Railroad football teams of the 1960s.
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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in.”