In November, 21-year-old Jamal Jones arrived in Newark, Del., for his first season as a professional basketball player and realized he hadn’t packed enough cold-weather clothes.
The Arkansas native had spent most of his life down south, and he learned quickly how different things would be after his decision to leave Texas A&M University early. He had to cook for himself for the first time. “I used the microwave a lot,” Jones said, though occasionally he whipped up eggs or pasta.
He had more free time than he knew what to do with. “I spent a lot of time at the movies,” Jones said, cracking a smile. “It was a lot of older people there. I feel like I went to the wrong theater.”
Fortunately, most of that time was spent in a basketball gym. The Delaware 87ers selected Jones in the second round of the 2014 NBA Development League Draft on Nov. 1, giving their parent club, the Philadelphia 76ers, a chance to evaluate an NBA Draft-eligible prospect up close for six months, and Jones a chance to mature.
It’s an alternative route to the Association that came into the spotlight a year ago, when former blue-chip prospect P.J. Hairston joined the Texas Legends after being dismissed by the University of North Carolina. Hairston eventually became the first first-round pick the NBA’s minor league has ever produced.
Jones and 22-year-old guard Jarvis Threatt, who traveled the same path this season after being dismissed from the University of Delaware in June, took notice.
|NBA Draft Picks from the NBA D-League|
|Player||Year||Pick||D-League Team||NBA Team|
|P.J. Hairston||2014||No. 26||Texas Legends||Miami Heat*|
|Thanasis Antetokounmpo||2014||No. 51||Delaware 87ers||New York Knicks|
|Glen Rice Jr.||2013||No. 35||Rio Grande Valley Vipers||Philadelphia 76ers*|
|Chu Chu Maduabum||2011||No. 54||Bakersfield Jam||Los Angeles Lakers*|
|Latavious Williams||2009||No. 48||Tulsa 66ers||Miami Heat*|
|Mike Taylor||2008||No. 55||Idaho Stampede||Portland Trail Blazers*|
“You have more time to yourself. So what you do with that time is all up to you and you have to make the right decisions,” Jones — who also left college in June, expressing frustration with A&M’s program — said of the experience. “A guy like me, that’s what I needed.”
“You’re a pro,” echoed Threatt. “You’re an adult.”
Last year’s crop of draft-eligible NBA D-League prospects made history – Hairston and Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the Knicks’ 51st overall pick, became the first pair ever selected out of the minor league in the same NBA Draft.
This year’s crop — if you look at most mock drafts — is unlikely to replicate that success. Along with Jones and Threatt, international prospects Joonas Caven and Milos Milisavljevic also made the jump this season, but failed to make the significant impact that would entice an NBA team on draft day.
Yet both Jones and Threatt say they are better for their first exposure to professional life both off and on the court. Jones showcased his potential as a “three-and-D” wing off the Delaware bench, averaging 7.8 points and shooting 34% from deep in 21.1 minutes per game.
87ers head coach Kevin Young said he had “constant communication” with the Sixers regarding Jones throughout the season, down to the nitty-gritty details of how he conducts himself at practice.
All Young had previously known about Jones was that he was athletic, skinny, could shoot and had attended three different colleges; he spent the 2012-13 season at Lee College in Baytown, Texas after being dismissed from his first school, Ole Miss, following a violation of team rules.
“You bounce around from school to school, sometimes you get a stigma, whether it’s true or not true. He totally didn’t fit the stigma that I had of him coming in,” Young said. “He was a pleasure to work with.
“He’s a 6-8 wing that can run and shoot. Everybody wants a guy like that.”
Threatt saw similar ebbs and flows as a sub for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, affiliate of the Houston Rockets: waiting his turn, learning how to stay ready and, at times, letting loose. Under RGV’s relentless pace (112 possessions per 48 minutes, compared to the NBA average of 94), the slashing point guard posted four games with 30+ points and five with double-digit assists.
|Draft Profiles: Jamal Jones and Jarvis Threatt (2014-15 Statistics)|
|Birthdate||Height||Weight||Team||GP||MIN||PPG||FG (%)||3FG (%)||FT (%)||REB||AST||TO||STL||BLK|
|Jamal Jones||02/17/1993||6-9||190||Delaware 87ers||46||21.1||7.8||2.9/6.8
|Jarvis Threatt||04/03/1993||6-1||172||RGV Vipers||36||21.7||12.9||4.2/9.4
The high-flying style suited the 6-1, 172-pound Threatt, who put on a show at the league’s Slam Dunk Contest in February and recorded a 43-inch max vertical at its Elite Mini Camp in May – tied for the seventh-highest ever officially registered by a draft prospect, according to DraftExpress.com.
All that after initially deciding to sign with Greek team Panionios in August; he soon left amid turmoil, as the team was relegated to second division after its owner resigned.
“It’s funny how things work out,” Threatt said, “because it turned out to be a good year for me.”
Both players now enter the pre-Draft grind, having workouts with 10-12 teams on their June schedules. They each feel like they’ve gotten a head start on their peers after adjusting to the NBA rules and style of play – Jones learning that he needs to make a play using three dribbles or fewer, Threatt learning the intricacies of the pick-and-roll on both ends of the floor.
“I really don’t think college guys understand how different the pro game is,” Threatt said.