Talented freshman skips NBA draft, elects to return

Jones III

By Chris Derrett
Sports Editor

Like his fellow classmates, nobody is forcing freshman forward Perry Jones III to return to Baylor for another semester. But chances are good he’s the only student at the university turning down millions of dollars to do so.

Sitting with his father and mother at a mid-April press conference on Baylor’s campus, the star basketball player announced his decision to return to Baylor and play one more year.

“I want to thank Baylor for everything they’ve done for me and my family,” said Jones, whose choice even surprised his teammates. “I really believe I can grow as a player and a person if I stay one more year at Baylor University.”

Jones’ teammates then burst into applause and high-pitched screaming, and Baylor fans soon sprinkled the Internet with Facebook statuses, tweets and message board posts expressing joy over the announcement.

Despite being projected as high as No. 1 in this year’s NBA draft, Jones will return to Baylor for a number of reasons, including his outlook for next year’s team and the opportunity to spend more time with players he said he now considers brothers.

Sole responsibility

Jones knew whatever decision he made would come with support from his parents, Perry and Terri Jones, as well as coach Scott Drew and the Baylor program. Still, neither of the aforementioned parties made the decision for Jones.

“His decision was solely based on how he felt as a man. I am really proud of him for making this decision, and I am just here to support him,” Terri said.

Jones II was fully supportive of his son as well.

“I am proud of him also,” he said. “If his decision was to start swimming, I would still be behind him 100 percent.”

The choice took weeks of prayer and thought, Jones said.

It wasn’t easy when a Google search could show Jones his high NBA draft stock before Baylor’s season even began. Jones actually entered the season thinking he would be another one-and-done player.

“I was thinking that, especially after reading articles and projections and stuff. That was in the back of my head,” Jones said. “I think this decision can better me as a man.”

Big brother, little brother

The smiles in the room at the April 11 press conference were everywhere, from Drew on the podium to Jones’ giddy teammates rooting him on from the back of the room. Jones couldn’t see himself leaving for the NBA.

“They keep me out of trouble, keep me out of harm’s way,” Jones said of his teammates.

“Staying with them seems better than going out to the real world by myself and being alone and not having a great group of guys to help me.”

Jones expressed additional excitement in playing with both veterans and newcomers next year, such as junior Boston College transfer Brady Heslip, freshman UC-Berkeley transfer Gary Franklin and sophomore Cory Jefferson, who redshirted this season.

Perhaps no player was more excited about Jones’ choice than junior Quincy Acy, the epitome of the Bears’ sentiment toward Jones.

“You can’t leave big brother stranded,” a smiling Acy said.

Acy, who has known Jones since Jones was a high-schooler, had admiration for Jones’ decision in the face of millions of dollars and likened it to Ohio State standout freshman Jared Sullinger staying an additional year.

“It just shows that the top talent aren’t going [to college] for benefits or whatever. They’re coming because they like the school and they like the people on the team. It says a lot about them,” Acy said.

Above and beyond

At 13.9 points per game, Jones might have been the Bears’ second-leading scorer, but he said he still has work to do before becoming at least a solid contributor on an NBA squad.

A point of emphasis for Jones will be “my motor, to be able to keep playing consistently throughout the entire 40 minutes of the game,” he said.

Drew said because of Jones’ size, Jones’ best basketball will always be ahead of him until his late 20s or early 30s.

Jones also knows basketball analysts will watch him closely next year, possibly questioning his decision and always pondering what could have been had Jones answered the NBA’s call.

“Even if I would have went, there would have been a chip on my shoulder. You cannot avoid the chip,” Jones said.

For now, God’s call is all that matters to Jones.

“[The NBA] is in the back of my mind, you know,” Jones said. “But I just know this is the right choice. I prayed about it, and God led me to this decision.”