It may seem like there’s not a lot on the line for Derrick Jones Jr. at All-Star Saturday Night — after all, he’s essentially playing with house money as the underdog in the Verizon Slam Dunk contest since he’s the least known commodity.
But ever since the summer of seventh grade when he threw down his first dunk, Jones Jr. has been waiting for this moment. And now that it’s finally here, he can’t wait to embrace it.
“I can’t wait to be on that floor doing what I do,” Jones Jr. said at Friday’s media availability in New Orleans. “I’m not nervous at all right now, but everyone knows that when the bright lights come on, the real player comes out.”
Indeed, the lights will be shining bright in the Big Easy Saturday night at an event that has featured Hall of Famers and the best dunkers in NBA history — Michael Jordan and Julius Erving just two at the top of that list.
Jones Jr., who has played much of his rookie season with the Northern Arizona Suns, has thrown down his share of thunderous D-League dunks, from fast break jams to high-flying alley-oops. But the 6’7 forward, who has only three career NBA dunks, will certainly be the underdog — something he’s used to.
“All my life I’ve been the underdog. I’ve never been shy of the spotlight. … It was a tough path I had to take, but my father told me to never give up on life.”
Speaking of family, they’ll be lending him all the support they can, as his parents and fiancee will be in the crowd rooting him on. “I know that no matter how Saturday night plays out, they’re going to be very happy for me — I’m always going to be the best player in their eyes.”
When asked what his favorite dunk was, Jones Jr. replied that Vince Carter’s 360 windmill dunk is his favorite ever. And then he took it a step further, setting some extremely lofty goals for himself by trying to bypass Vinsanity.
“He’s the best dunker of all-time. I hope to take that title one day.”
Although winning the dunk contest would be a dream come true for Jones Jr., he also realizes that there’s still more work to do after Saturday night’s festivities. After all, the 20-year-old has scored just 11 NBA points thus far.
“After this weekend, I hope that my NBA career gets jumpin’.”