New Orleans two-way contract signee Jalen Jones has spent much of the past month working out in his new NBA team’s Metairie practice facility, but the forward’s true introduction to the Pelicans took place in Lexington, Ky. In August, Jones joined about a dozen New Orleans teammates on the University of Kentucky campus, getting a head start on what will be his second NBA training camp (he spent the 2016 preseason with Boston). It was an invaluable four-day experience for the 24-year-old.
“It was a great bonding trip as a team,” said Jones, who’d never previously played with any current Pelican. “I got a chance to get to know some of the guys on the team better. We joked around and had a good time, but we were also about business when we were on the court. We did a lot of team activities.”
Although NBA coaches aren’t permitted to work with players at voluntary workouts, Jones noted that the Pelicans had a coach of sorts in Lexington with them, in new starting point guard Rajon Rondo.
“He was drawing up plays, coaching us up,” Jones said of the 11-year veteran. “He’s like a coach on the floor, for real. He’s so smart and just knows where everybody is supposed to be. His vision on the court is just tremendous. I can definitely see why he’s a champion and an All-Star, because his IQ is so high. I’ve played with a lot of point guards, but I haven’t see an IQ at that high of a level. I can definitely see him being a coach after he’s done playing, because everybody respects him and listens to him.
“He always talks to me and says ‘Yo J, push yourself.’ He’s not letting me take breaks, telling me to push through it. He’s telling me the little things I need to do to stay (on the court).”
Jones, a Texas A&M product, noted that he’s previously played against Pelicans guard Jordan Crawford (in the D-League last season) and four-time All-Star forward Anthony Davis (AAU circuit), but smiles while adding, “I’m pretty sure (Davis) probably doesn’t even remember that.”
Avid Kentucky fans might recognize Jones from his college days, because as a senior in 2015-16 with the Aggies, he was a severe thorn in the sides of the Wildcats. He racked up 24 points and eight rebounds during an upset victory over Kentucky, then tallied 15 points in the SEC title game, a narrow Wildcats overtime win.
Jones went undrafted in June ’16, but signed with Boston and played in two preseason games for the Celtics, before being assigned to their D-League affiliate in Maine. He earned a berth in the D-League All-Star Game, which was held in New Orleans in February, while averaging 21.0 points and 9.0 rebounds last season. He also excelled on the Pelicans’ summer league team this July, posting averages of 13.3 points and 6.2 boards. New Orleans used the brand-new two-way contract option to officially sign Jones and wing Charles Cooke on Aug. 2. Jones describes his two-way deal as an initial step to trying to carve out a future at this level.
“I thought it was a good idea by the NBA, to give guys a shot who’ve been working to get there,” the Dallas native said. “It’s kind of like you have one foot in the door, but you have to do more work to try to get the other foot in the door. I see it as an opportunity. When the Pelicans picked me up, it was a relief, to know that my hard work had paid off in the D-League. I got a chance to play for them in summer league, and I now I have a chance to solidify myself in the NBA. It’s a great opportunity that I’m trying to make the most out of.”
In the weeks leading up to the opening of New Orleans training camp Sept. 26, Jones will be gaining more familiarity with Pelicans teammates in Metairie, lifting weights, ramping up his conditioning and playing in scrimmages. He’s looking forward to continuing his NBA education and working with a team eager to return to the postseason next spring.
“It’s a group of guys trying to win,” Jones said. “You have a vet in Rondo who has been around and has won a championship. AD and (DeMarcus Cousins) are two superstars in this league and want to get back to the playoffs. They understand that we are in a tough conference, and we have to start early. We have to build that chemistry from the jump. Let’s get a head start before everybody. That’s how it starts. You’ve got to build a relationship with your teammates off the court, so you can gel together on the court. That’s what we’re trying to do.”