By Gene Phelps

Daily Journal

Dontae’ Jones plans to play basketball next season, but not at Mississippi State.

Jones, a 6-foot-7 junior, has left school and returned Sunday to his home in Nashville, Tenn., where he will likely remain until this summer’s National Basketball Association draft.

Jones could not be reached for comment Monday, but his father, John Jones said, “He’s debating it, but I don’t think he’s going back (to Mississippi State).”

Mississippi State coach Richard Williams said Sunday on SportSouth’s cable television program, “Mississippi State Live,” that Jones had withdrawn from school.

“We’re in the process of doing the paperwork to allow him to withdraw when he makes that decision,” Williams said Monday. “I’d like to talk to him, but I have not talked to Dontae’.”

Speculation on whether Jones would return for his senior season has been a hot topic since Mississippi State’s 77-69 loss to Syracuse in the semifinals of the Final Four March 30 at the Meadowlands Arena in East Rutherford, N.J.

Jones, a 6-foot-7 small forward, had an outstanding postseason, winning MVP honors in the SEC Tournament and in the NCAA’s Southeast Regional.

“I don’t think there was ever any plan for Dontae’ not to return for his senior year until he played so well in the postseason,” Williams said.

One New York basketball expert, sports writer Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News, wrote that Jones “is the best athlete in college basketball” and ranked him as one of the top seven players ready for the NBA.

Williams says he’s not familiar enough with the pro game to evaluate Jones’ potential as an NBA player.

“I know that he is a very talented player, talented enough to play at any level,” Williams said. “But there’s more to it than talent. More things enter into it.”

Another factor in Jones’ decision to make himself available for the NBA draft could be his eligibility.

During the week of the Final Four, the NCAA was on campus at Northeast Mississippi Community College in Booneville conducting interviews concerning Jones’ academics. Jones passed 36 hours in summer school 23 at Northeast and 13 correspondence from Southern Mississippi to become eligible to play at Mississippi State.

Jones admitted that going to school is not a high priority. “I love playing basketball,” he said in a Feb. 26 interview. “For me it’s basketball, family and then school.”

While Williams would like to have a player of Jones’ caliber back for another season, he can’t blame him for wanting to turn pro.

“He’s doing what’s best for him and his family,” Williams said. “He’s admitted that he doesn’t like school. What choice does he have if he gets the chance to make that kind of money.”

Added Williams: “We appreciate what he brought to our basketball program, even though he was only here for a short time. He meant a great deal to this program.”

(bullet) The Bulldogs’ 6-foot-11 All-SEC center Erick Dampier has not made a decision on whether he’ll declare for the NBA draft.

“I’ve had some conversations with Erick and he’s undecided,” Williams said. “He could enter the draft and then have the option of coming back, as long as he didn’t sign with an agent. But he hasn’t made a decision yet.”

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