JONES SAYS GOODBYE TO NORTHEAST FAMILY
By Mike Talbert
BOONEVILLE Dontae’ Jones made his entry into the NBA draft official Friday with what can best be called a mutual appreciation ceremony.
The 6-foot-7 forward, who set most of the offensive records at Northeast Mississippi Community College before going to the Final Four with Mississippi State this season, was greeted by nearly 600 fans at Bonner Arnold Coliseum.
During the brief ceremonies, outgoing Northeast athletic director Bill Ward retired Jones’ Northeast jersey No. 32.
“He was the first NBA player I coached. I hope he isn’t the last,” Northeast coach Mike Lewis said.
Four other Northeast players with professional sports connections also had their numbers retired. They include Jerome Woods of the University of Memphis, who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs last week; former Northeast and Kentucky basketball star Adrian Smith, who played with the Cincinnati Royals; Nub Strickland, who was with the Denver Broncos; and Mike Williams, who was with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Afterwards Jones hung around two hours just talking and signing autographs.
“I don’t get a chance to visit Northeast very often,” Jones said. “I just wanted to let them know I was going into the NBA draft.”
Jones was there with a crowd of family and friends, including his new agent, Tim Jumper, a former Ole Miss basketball standout.
His mother, LaFonda Harris of Nashville, was surprised by the throng and by her son’s athletic success.
“It hasn’t all settled in yet. I am still amazed, excited, confused,” she said. “I’m just glad it is my son. When it is somebody else, you don’t think much about it.”
This was Jones’ first public appearance since the Bulldogs (26-8) finished their most successful season with a 77-69 loss to Syracuse in the NCAA semifinals.
Since then, Jones has dropped out of Mississippi State and decided to turn pro, even though he still has a year of eligibility left. He averaged 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in his only season at Mississippi State.
“You go to college to get your career,” Jones said. “I know my career is basketball. I have an opportunity to play in the NBA.”
He said that opportunity and the money it represented was too much to put off.
During the postseason this year, Jones came into his own, especially when he scored 28 points in the Bulldogs’ 84-73 upset of eventual national champion Kentucky.
It was during that postseason that Jones said he became aware he might be an NBA prospect.
Jumper said that he is in contact with various teams, but other than Jones will be at the pre-draft camp in Chicago June 3-10, nothing is firm yet. Jumper said he expects Jones to start visiting various teams for personal workouts in mid-May.
“It is hard to tell how high he will go in the draft,” Jumper said. “A lot depends on who comes out of school. I have been in contact with a lot of teams and everybody feels he will be in the top 15.”
Jones said he is not worried about how high, he just wants a chance to play in the NBA.
“I am a professional now.”