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NCAA buffoonery leads to success with Suns for Derrick Jones Jr.

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Head coach Earl Watson calls the last man to make the squad the team’s most athletic player.

NCAA Basketball: Nevada at UNLV Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Last week many Phoenix Suns fans thought Derrick Jones Jr. was a name they needn’t remember. With finals cuts looming it appeared that it would be Jones or John Jenkins who would be jettisoned from Phoenix to trim the roster to 15 ahead of tonight’s season opener against the Sacramento Kings. It turns out both will remain in a Suns uniform as Phoenix instead elected to part ways with 22 year-old guard Archie Goodwin on Monday.

It’s been a strange journey for Jones whose freshman season at UNLV was cut short thanks to the handiwork of the NCAA. Holding a 3.25 GPA while with the Rebels, Jones was declared ineligible to finish the season after his ACT score was deemed invalid. At the time Jones averaged 11.5 points and 4.5 rebounds, topping 20 points three times in 30 games. His .672 field goal percentage from inside the arc was the best in the Mountain West Conference. Off to a dazzling start in his collegiate career, he was left with three options to begin the process of restoring his NCAA eligibility. He could retake the ACT, go to arbitration, or throw out the test score altogether. He elected to make an NBA roster instead.

He didn’t hear his name called on draft night though. Most assessments of Jones pointed out his athleticism as his greatest attribute, and his lack of refinement and 6-foot-7, 190 pound frame has the biggest concerns. It’s hard to ignore a guy who does stuff like this though:

Another season at UNLV and Jones would have been in the discussion as a 2017 first round pick. I’ll stop short of saying lottery, because I know I’m just excited about the season starting. So maybe we would have ended up getting him anyway. Either way, this could turn out to be a steal for the Suns. Jones didn’t participate in the NBA Summer League, and his invitation to Suns training camp in Flagstaff seemed destined to end in Prescott Valley with the Phoenix D-League affiliate, the Northern Arizona Suns. Instead he’s staying in Phoenix for now, and head coach Earl Watson calls Jones the most athletic player on the team. That’s high praise for a team that just drafted explosive forward Marquese Chriss out of Washington.

“He’s the most athletic player on our team and that says a lot with Marquese Chriss sitting right here,” Watson told the Arizona Republic. “He has the potential to be a defender, 3-point shooter and play above the rim. But he has to get NBA reps and get a NBA work ethic.”

Don’t expect to see consistent minutes from Jones this season, and absolutely expect to see him splitting time between Phoenix and Northern Arizona. Archie Goodwin would not have been okay with this. After Jones received news that he had been “red flagged” by the NCAA for this test scores, he was asked what he’s going to do. He said:

“I don't even know. This is a tough time for me. I just want to play. Now I don't know what to do."

Sounds like suiting up for the NAZ Suns won’t be a problem for the 19 year-old. When he is on the court, don’t walk away. Jones has the kind of raw talent that is fun to watch and he could fit in with the direction the once directionless Suns are now headed. Youth, fun, not being a jackass. That’s the direction.

The Suns get the season started tonight at home against the Sacramento Kings. Tip off is scheduled for 7pm PT.