Skip to main content

Former Texas striker Kai Jones wants to follow in Deandre Ayton’s footsteps and make his Caribbean homeland proud.

“I’m so proud of him and happy with the way he represents our country,” Jones said of his compatriot Bahamian, who is enjoying an impressive playoff run with Phoenix. “He’s one of the main inspirations for me.”

The Suns made Ayton the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft after the 6-foot-11, 250-pound center played for Arizona in the freshman. While Jones at 6-11½, 221 pounds won’t be a top-five pick, his athleticism and raw skills on both ends of the court make him a top-20 prospect for teams intrigued by his potential.

One of those clubs is apparently the Spurs, who lack depth in the frontcourt and who interviewed Jones on Thursday during the NBA Draft in Chicago.

“It went really well,” Jones said in a Zoom talk on his conversation with Spurs, who have the 12th pick overall.

“I love their style,” he added. “I like everything they represent. It was great talking to them. They had a lot of legendary players. … It would be a pleasure to be part of this organization.

Jones, 20, is one of 353 early entry contenders for the draft and one of 69 players invited to the combine. He said he interviewed 13 teams in the past two days, including Boston, Golden State, New Orleans and Toronto.

“I love it here,” Jones said. “It was a great time to share who I am with these people who have watched me for the past two years (in Texas).”

Jones averaged 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 22.8 minutes as a bench mainstay for the Longhorns during the 2020-21 season. He finished third on the team in blocks with 24 after notching a record 30 in the freshman.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story. Former Longhorns coach Shaka Smart said Jones had the best work ethic of any 6-11 player he has ever coached, an impressive roster that includes NBA players Jarrett Allen, Jaxson Hayes and Mo Bamba. .

Jones said his motivation came from his “love for the game” and the fact that he was constantly overlooked in his youth. His debut in organized basketball only came in high school, where he experienced a major growth spurt.

Despite his late start, Jones led Orlando Christian Prep to the Florida State Class 3A title as a junior in 2018. In 2019, he helped lead the Brewster Academy in New Hampshire to the Championship Tournament title. national preparation 2019.

“I have always played and have always had a passion for basketball,” Jones said. “I just happened to not be on the team in seventh, eighth or ninth grade. I was playing in the city leagues. … trying to play pickup (games) wherever I could. But I’ve always loved the game, I’ve always played the game, I’ve always watched the game and followed it.

Jones said he’s “only scratched the surface” of how good he can be.

“I feel like I have a lot to show and a lot of room to grow on both sides of the pitch,” he said.

Still, he’s convinced it won’t take long for him to make an impact in the NBA.

“With all the tools I have in terms of athleticism and versatility, that can translate very quickly,” Jones said. “I have so many sides to my game. I can run the floor and keep one to five.

Asked to name his NBA models, Jones quickly ticked off Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett, Brooklyn superstar Kevin Durant and two-time Milwaukee League MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Kevin Garnett because of his intensity, postgame, fadeway and rebounds,” said Jones. “Kevin Durant for his ability to dribble, catch and shoot and his impeccable midrange play. And Giannis for his transition game. He can really run on the pitch, he’s a weird athlete, and he walks and dunk Euro on people much like what I do.

And, of course, he also admires Ayton, who he worked with in 2017 in Nassau as Ayton prepared to leave for Arizona.

“The pick and roll is huge in the NBA so his ability to roll and finish around the rim is huge,” Jones said.

NBA teams hope the same will be true for Jones. If that doesn’t happen, it won’t be for lack of effort.

“I love basketball and feel very lucky to play this game,” Jones said. “I’m grateful for every opportunity I have, including being in this draft. I want to be the best version of myself I can and really try to maximize my potential. That’s why I really work so hard.