By Jeff Brown
Just over a year ago -- several months before the Bears' run to the Elite Eight -- Baylor made a splash in the world of men's basketball with the announced commitment of Duncanville [Texas] High standout Perry Jones III, a consensus top-five recruit nationally and the highest ranked signee in program history.
"Signing a player like Perry is a monumental moment for this program," head coach Scott Drew said at the time. "Perry will not only be a great addition to our team, but will also open numerous doors for our program in years to come."
Though just a freshman this year, Jones was named to the watch list for this year's Naismith Award -- basketball's equivalent to the Heisman -- and was a preseason all-Big 12 pick by three publications. But you'll have to ask others about his talent, because the man one ESPN expert called "the most talented player in the class, with true NBA potential" won't brag on himself.
"He's one of those guys who, in a two-on-one or three-on-one break, he'd rather let somebody else shoot it," says Drew. "As a coach, that's been our challenge -- to make him more dominant and have him take things more on himself, rather than being so team-oriented at times."
"I just want to be able to produce for the team," says Jones. "If that means scoring 30 points, then I want to be able to do that. If it means not scoring and giving up the ball all the time, then that's what I want to be able to do."
Those aren't words you often hear from a star athlete, much less one who many prognosticators predict could head to the NBA after just one season at Baylor. Asked to describe himself in three words, Jones came up with "caring, humble and quiet;" he says his humility can be credited to his parents, particularly his mother. In fact, his mother is one reason Jones committed to Baylor all the way back in ninth grade.
"My eighth grade year, my mom was diagnosed with heart disease," he recalls. "I always wanted to be in the Big 12, and Baylor ended up being the perfect spot at the perfect time -- just an hour away from home. It's a blessing to be here."
Followers of Jones on Twitter might recognize one phrase in particular that his mother often repeated.
"Thank God for this day that wasn't promised," Jones frequently tweets. "Every day when I was younger, after she woke us up, my mom would tell us to thank God for the day that wasn't promised to us, and that kinda stuck."
The message took on extra meaning when one of Jones' Duncanville teammates, Deion Houston, was killed in a car accident this summer. Jones, who wore number three in high school, changed his jersey to number five upon arriving at Baylor in honor of his friend.
At 6-foot-11, Jones has the height to play center but has such exceptional ball-handling ability that, when needed, he can bring the ball down the court like a guard. Through the team's first six games, he was third on the team in scoring (averaging 12.8 points per game) and second in rebounds (9.0 per game). And that's just the beginning, says Drew.
"Throughout the year, people are going to see him get better and better as he gets more comfortable. Even from just his first game 'til now, you can see he feels more comfortable out there, he's more active, he's adjusting to playing Division I basketball. There aren't many things he can't do. He can handle the ball, he can pass it, he can shoot it; he's getting better defensively and at rebounding."
With that kind of ceiling, Jones won't have to say much at all; he can let his performance on the court do all the talking.