Commentary

Basketball is in Jones' DNA

Updated: October 2, 2009, 1:43 PM ET
By Christopher Lawlor | ESPN.com

Terrence Jones looks good.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Jones
Dustin Snipes/Icon SMI Terrence Jones is the No. 9 recruit in the ESPNU 100.

He always looks good on the basketball court. He is an all-around player -- posting up, flicking shots, sending laser passes in traffic and clearing boards. With one season left before college, Jones is shifting focus on his game away from the game.

This isn't a makeover -- no, Jones doesn't need one anytime soon. Instead, the 6-foot-9 forward from Jefferson High in Portland, Ore., wants to be more aware of his teammates. Consider it a comfort zone where banter flows freely and unity is paramount.

"I'm a senior. I need to be a leader," he said.

His proactive approach has been noticeable at Jefferson's open gyms this fall. He's more inclusive, making sure everyone touches the ball. He feeds the hot hand. He lauds them for a heads-up play and dishes out criticism for boneheaded moves.

Mostly, he's a trusted sage for frustrated teammates.

"They're worried about playing time and if they'll be on the varsity," Jones said, softly.

That when his Dear Abby instinct kicks in.

And his advice?

"It's a new year. Coach Strickland views it as a fresh start for all. Go prove yourself."

Conversely, Jones is past that stage. With an 84-inch wingspan, he is rounding into a complete player, the one college coaches hope will find a home in their program.

"He's likeable, very coachable, and mostly his teammates love him," Jefferson coach Pat Strickland said.

Add dedicated and loyal.

Jones, the No. 3 small forward and No. 15 overall in the ESPNU 100, had a chance to jump. He could have transferred to a nationally known basketball factory on the East Coast, joining former high school teammate Terrence Ross (a Maryland recruit), but opted to stay at the secondary school located in his North Portland neighborhood.

"There's nothing more that I have to prove at another school that I couldn't do here [at Jefferson]," Jones said. "My family is here; that's really important."

Family ties

Jones is quite content in Portland but knows the next level will take him elsewhere. That's why he savors playing locally.

When the Jefferson Democrats are home, so is Jones' extended family.

"At least 25 family members at each game come watch me play," Jones said. "You can't get that kind of love anywhere but at home."

For Jones, basketball began at home. When his parents divorced, Jones and his mother, Linda, moved in with his maternal grandmother. It was there that his aunt, Ava Mashia (Linda's sister), nurtured a precocious 3-year-old with the DNA for the game.

Mashia was a scholarship basketball player at the University of Washington and taught him how to play the game, appreciate the talents of Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, and respect the game.

"My aunt was always way ahead of things," Jones said. "When I was too scared to sleep at night, we'd watch late games on TV. We collected basketball cards. She taught [me] to dribble and my post-up moves."

They played one-on-one at Peninsula Park in North Portland, and by the sixth grade, the apprentice defeated his court mentor. In the eighth grade, Jones was dunking. He had taken his fledgling game to another stratosphere.

Through it all, there are constants, namely his mother and aunt.

Mashia remains his most discerning critic.

"She's very knowledgeable about the game and first taught me to shoot over my head," he said. "Once the national analysts wrote I didn't have a midrange game, she pointed out, 'I told you this years ago; start listening to me.'"

His cousins, Salim and Damon Stoudamire, both have played in the NBA. Salim is at the Houston Rockets camp while Damon is an assistant coach with the Memphis Grizzlies.

"They want me to understand what it takes to play in the NBA," Jones said. "They talk about the workouts and how hard they are."

Jones' cousin, Erica Mashia, played at USC and was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year for the 1995-96 season.

"It's a great basketball family," said Strickland.

Recruiting wars

John Calipari, Bill Self, Lorenzo Romar, Ben Howland and Jeff Capel have each been known to saunter into Jefferson's gymnasium to catch an eyeful and, maybe, the eye of Jones.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Jones
Chris Williams/Icon SMITerrence Jones spent the offseason working on his mid-range game.

Jones isn't on top of the game when it comes to recruiting. He doesn't necessarily return phone calls promptly or seemingly express interest in any particular school. He hasn't scheduled any official visits, but wants to sign his binding national letter of intent in November.

Strickland said North Carolina and Florida are out of the picture: "They chose to go in another direction; they didn't know his interest."

What is known is that Jones has seven schools in the mix: Oregon, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Washington and UCLA. Maryland remains on the periphery.

"My goal is to get it done early," Jones said. "I'm working on it."

Jones is clearly one of the top players in the Class of 2010 and is a shoo-in for the McDonald's and Jordan Brand All-America Games.

Jones' Scouts Inc. evaluation says it all: "He is skilled playing with his face to the basket and can put the ball on the floor and create his own shot and has a good feel passing the ball out of the post. He is a great offensive rebounder who is quick off the floor and pursues the ball relentlessly. Jones is a smart player … on the defensive end, Jones gives good effort, and he can guard all five spots."

Strickland, who coached Jones with the I-5 Elite on the summer circuit, watched the maturation of his star player's game firsthand.

"He's always up for a challenge; he wants to help his teammates. Terrence will guard a big man if he has to. He just wants to win and improve his game, whatever it takes," he said.

It was a bountiful summer for Jones, who attended the LeBron James Skills Academy in July and participated in the Nike Global Challenge and the Boost Mobile Elite 24 Game in August. Jones also helped the I-5 Elite win the Center Stage Tournament at Las Vegas in July and buoyed the team during the treacherous summertime circuit.

"It was a great summer," Jones noted.

Three-peat

When the Jefferson Democrats take the floor in December, they will be considered one of the nation's top teams.

In his first season as head coach, Strickland lead the Demos to their second consecutive Oregon Class 5A state championship, beating Century (Hillsboro) 60-44 in the final at University of Oregon's cozy McArthur Court.

Jones saved his best for last, recording a double-double, 27 points and 18 rebounds, as Jefferson snared its fifth overall state title.

The Demos return nine players, including all the starters, and have added key transfers -- notably Noah Kone, a 6-7 forward from Vancouver, Wash., recruited by Pac-10 and Western Coast Conference schools -- but Jones remains to the go-to guy, said Strickland.

As a junior, he was named the state player of the year, averaging 24 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks and 3 steals. Impressive digits -- but a third straight crown would cap a brilliant career in the Rose City.

"We're up for the challenge," Strickland said.

To fulfill that goal, the Demos are ramping up their nonconference schedule. Strickland said Jefferson will participate in the Les Schwab Invitational, a Portland-area, 16-team tournament in December with the likes of national heavyweights Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.), Westchester (Los Angeles) and Rainier Beach (Seattle).

Additionally, he's booked dates with Poly (Long Beach, Calif.), Castlemont (Oakland, Calif.) and Federal Way (Wash.) and is awaiting an invite to play at the Bank of America City of Palms Classic, which tips off Dec. 19 in Fort Myers, Fla.

"We want to be nationally ranked," Jones said. "If you play good teams and beat them, you'll be noticed, right?"

Strickland agrees. Jefferson last appeared in the final national rankings in 2000 when it finished 28-0 after winning the Class 4A title. That team featured Aaron Miles (now with the Atlanta Hawks).

"Terrence asked to play the best, and we'd like to get noticed by the rankings. Hopefully we can put Portland basketball on the map with this team," Strickland added.

Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA Today, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball, and boys' and girls' basketball. He also worked for Scholastic Coach magazine, for which he ran the Gatorade National Player of the Year program for nine years. Lawlor, a New Jersey resident, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University.

Christopher Lawlor

High School Basketball
Christopher Lawlor has covered high school sports for more than 20 years, most recently with USA TODAY, where he was the head preps writer responsible for national high school rankings in football, baseball and boys and girls basketball. He also ran the Gatorade national player of the year program for nine years.