Brian Lester, NCAA.com
Jonathan Jones could easily walk around with swagger in his step and has plenty of room to brag about his success as a college basketball player at Kean University.
You see, Jones has established himself as one of the premier stars in the country in Division III. There was even a time this season when the 6-5, 220-pound senior forward led the nation in scoring and rebounding, putting up numbers that drop jaws and turn heads.
He is currently fourth in scoring, clicking for 24.2 points per game, but still has the best rebounding average in DIII at 15 rebounds per outing. What is even more impressive is that he has had a double-double in every game.
But here is the thing about Jones: As phenomenal as he has been on the basketball court, he could make a strong case for being one of the most humble athletes in the game. He is soft-spoken and actually wondered what all of the buzz was about when he found out he was being interviewed for a feature story.
After all, Jones plays at a school in Union, N.J., that doesn’t have a spotlight shining on it. It is a dot on the college basketball landscape.
“You look at my numbers and you would think I play angry, but that isn’t the case,” Jones said. “I go out and play hard in every single game and enjoy being around my teammates. I love playing at Kean. I couldn’t see myself playing anywhere else.”
There was a time when it was unlikely that Jones would play anywhere. As a freshman at Linden High School in New Jersey, he was cut from the basketball team, and because of that, KU sports information director Karyn Pinter jokes that Jones is the Michael Jordan of Kean.
“To be honest, it just wasn’t time my time as an athlete,” Jones said. “I was a late bloomer. I wasn’t ready for high school basketball.”
Rather than hang his head, Jones came back the next season and made the junior varsity team. He would eventually play varsity ball at Linden, which won a state championship in 2007.
Interestingly enough, Jones never started a game in high school. He didn’t even play in every game as a senior. Recruiters weren’t exactly trying to break down his front door to sign him.
“Obviously, I wasn’t getting any looks coming out of high school, but I wanted to find a place to play and stay close to home. Kean was a good fit,” Jones said. “I felt like I was good enough to play Division III basketball. But I was so inconsistent that I wasn’t sure if I would get a chance.”
He eventually found a consistency at Kean, absorbing knowledge about the game and spending extra time in the gym to fine tune his skills.
“I was so inconsistent and wasn’t able to do much in high school,” Jones said. “But when I got here, I learned how to be consistent as a player. I had a lot of different people help me and I have been a student of the game. I take the advice I get about basketball very seriously.”
Jones was in the opening lineup on and off during the first three years at Kean, starting a total of 25 games. As a freshman, he averaged 7.0 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest. He also tallied 24 steals and blocked 25 shots, offering an early glimpse of his potential.
His scoring and rebounding averages rose to 8.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game a year later. He also became more of a force blocking shots, racking up 40 rejections. He finished his sophomore campaign with 20 steals.
It was during his junior season that his career really began to take off. Jones made only eight starts but he finished the season averaging a double-double, a sign of things to come. He poured in 14.4 points per outing and pulled down 12.5 rebounds per game and swatted 27 shots to go with 44 steals.
Jones isn’t so quick to take all of the credit for his success.
He said former teammate Vinne Darpino played a vital role in his growth as a player. Current teammate Robert Lewis has made an impact on his game as well.
“Those guys are a big help to me, especially with the little things” Jones said. “Rob is the anchor of our defense and we work in the gym all of the time on that part of the game.”
There is more to Jones than scoring a ton of points and crashing the boards with relentless effort. He is a biology major with a physical therapy track and those who know him are amazed that he can juggle the demanding major alongside the time commitment with basketball. He made the Dean’s List in the fall.
“They call me crazy and can’t believe I can handle both,” Jones said. “But it’s really not that tough if you take the time and work hard. I am proud of what I’ve been able to do and I know I’m headed in the right direction with my life.”
Jones, who is often seen helping out at other sporting events on campus through his work with the athletic department, is also a four-year member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee. He is the vice president of the organization this year and said the position has helped make him more of a vocal leader.
Go back to basketball for a moment. Jones and the Cougars are enjoying their best season since he has been on campus. After three consecutive losing seasons, including two nine-win campaigns, the Cougars are 9-4 overall and 3-0 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
“Win or lose, we wake up every day knowing we are 0-0 again,” Jones said. “We don’t look back and just focus on one game at a time. We have to continue to get better and we’ll have a chance to be successful.”