CHICAGO — The goal for Carlik Jones is simple: Get to the NBA.
But first, he knew he had to perform well enough at the NBA G League Elite Camp in Chicago, IL, to get more attention from NBA teams. Jones was one of 40 players invited to Elite Camp, where he had the chance to display his skills in front of scouts, executives, and coaches, pulling for a coveted invite to the Microsoft Surface NBA Draft Combine 2021.
It wasn’t always clear that Jones would get this far. He’s an “undersized” guard that played his first three seasons of college ball at Radford before spending his senior season at Louisville. Not to mention playing sports at all was seen as an impossibility presented his way after birth.
“It’s crazy, when I was born I had something wrong with my skull,” Jones said. “I was told that I might not live for a certain length of time. Was told I would never be able to play sports…The fact that I was told that I could never play sports, God has allowed me and blessed me to wake up with sports on my mind everyday. I think about how blessed I am. That’s what really keeps me going.”
In his lone season at Louisville, Jones averaged 16.8 PTS (sixth-most in ACC), 4.9 REB, and 4.5 AST in 19 games. He was named to the 2020-21 All-ACC First Team.
After recording a 31.5″ vertical jump (tied for fifth amongst all players) and averaging 15.5 PTS in two games during the three days at Elite Camp, Jones got the call. He was heading to combine.
“It took a lot of weight off of my shoulders,” Jones said. “I thought I performed well the past two days. I was kind of waiting on that call, waiting on this opportunity. It came a little later than usual, but I ended up getting a call and it was a great thing to hear.”
Though some players can gauge if or when they knew they have the “it” factor to reach the NBA, Jones never had that moment. He’s been doubted upon, much like many of those who participated at Elite Camp. He’s only 6’0″ and a touch over 173 pounds.
“I might be six-foot but I have the heart of a lion,” Jones said. “You really don’t know (if getting to the NBA is a reality). You can assume and have dreams and aspirations of it, but you truly don’t know.”
Three other players were invited alongside Jones to stay in Chicago, IL, for the Microsoft Surface NBA Draft Combine 2021. Aaron Wiggins (Maryland), Duane Washington Jr. (Ohio State), and AJ Lawson (South Carolina) were all offered bids to join late Sunday night. You can watch the moment where they got the news below.
“I feel amazing,” Lawson said after getting his invite. “Just want to give thanks to God. [I’m] so happy right now. Just work hard the same way and just show everyone what I can do. Be the best that I can.”
In his three years at South Carolina, Lawson averaged 14.2 PTS, 4.0 AST, and shot 40.7% from the field. Even so, he wasn’t always on the radar for an Elite Camp invite.
“I was a reserve for the G League Elite Camp, then I got invited,” Lawson said. “I went there, felt like I worked hard and showed what I can do. The efforts paid off, I got invited to the NBA Combine. I feel like it’s truly amazing.”
Lawson looks to be another player to add to the expanding Canadian presence within the NBA, as 21 Canadian-born players were on NBA rosters at the end of the 2020-21 season. He was top five in three categories at Elite Camp: the vertical jump (33″), the approach vertical (41″), and the 3/4 court sprint (2.980 seconds). He averaged 12 PTS and 8 REB through two Elite Camp games.
The love of basketball ran naturally in Wiggins’ family. It was at a young age, too, that he became the best in the household between him, his father, and two brothers.
“I was probably in the sixth or seventh grade when I started to beat my dad and that’s when I knew that none of them could touch me.”
Wiggins played three years at Maryland, but became a full-fledged starter for the Terrapins this past season, starting in 30 of 31 games. He shot 44.6% from the field while scoring 14.5 PTS, grabbing 5.8 REB, and swiping 1.1 STL per-game last year. His numbers in almost every statistical category improved after being named the 2019-20 Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year.
Much like Wiggins, Washington Jr. really left his mark this last season at Ohio State, starting in all 31 games. He was seventh in the Big Ten in scoring (16.4 PTS), and second in 3PT% (37.4%).
You could say he was born into basketball. His father spent time with the New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Clippers during his career from 1987-1993. His uncle? Five-time champion Derek Fisher.
“My father played in the NBA, my uncle played in the NBA,” Washington Jr. said. “Just trying to live up to their footsteps and surpass them. I think that’s every father’s goal, for their son to grow up and be better than them. That’s something that my dad preaches to me. Now I just have to put my best two feet forward and make it happen.”
Washington Jr. can join his father by becoming the 25th German-born player since 1946-47 to play in the NBA.
The four players joined NBA G League Ignite’s Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix, Jalen Green, and Jonathan Kuminga as players with G League ties that participated in the combine and/or will be eligible in the NBA Draft.
Lawson finished tied for first in the 3/4 court sprint during combine, while he and Wiggins were top five in the shuttle run as well.
Here’s how the guys performed after two games apiece.
Duane Washington Jr.: 26 PTS, 5 REB, 6 AST
AJ Lawson: 24 PTS, 11 REB, 8 AST, 5 STL
Aaron Wiggins: 18 PTS, 6 REB, 2 AST, 2 STL
Carlik Jones: 16 PTS, 6 REB, 3 AST, 3 STL, 1 BLK
“If I do hear my name called, I’ll be one happy camper for sure,” Lawson said.
The NBA Draft takes place on Thursday, July 29.