Christian Jones, the last scholarship player added, will be one of the first to see the court for St. John’s this season.
“That motivated me more, being the underdog nobody knew about,” Jones said.
Red Storm Coach Steve Lavin didn’t expect Jones to be ready to contribute this early, but he was in the Johnnies starting lineup Saturday night in their 73-55 exhibition win over Sonoma State. Lavin never doubted his potential, strength, speed and agility, but felt it would take him time to get accustomed to playing at the college level. So far that hasn’t been the case and Lavin raves about the 6-foot-7, 228-pound wing.
“He is really special,” the coach said. “He is like, ‘Wow.’”
He has been impressed with his shooting range, court vision, efficiency and the power he finished with around the rim. He’s in the mix to start and could see major minutes when Red Storm open the season Nov. 11 against Detroit at Carnesecca Arena. Jones had eight points and seven rebounds against Sonoma State.
“I did what ever Coach Lav told me to do and I guess I’m doing pretty good at it,” Jones said.
Lavin got a call about Jones during the summer. He checked out his YouTube highlights and felt he was too good to be true even before he sent assistant Coach Rico Hines to see him. Jones was a late bloomer at IMG Academy in Florida, the same prep school attended by St. John’s guard Phil Greene and where former Johnnie Maurice Harkless trained. The Texas native added guard skills there and eventually passed up scholarship offers from Oklahoma State, Auburn, Marquette and Baylor to come to St. John’s because of the relationship he built with Lavin.
“His enthusiasm is so strong,” Jones said. “I got connected with him fast.”
What impressed Lavin the most was that Jones never asked about St. John’s’ roster. It was already filled with highly touted players like D’Angelo Harrison, JaKarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa. He was more worried about the school itself and how it would fit him.
“I was like, this kid’s pretty confident, like ‘I got this,’” Lavin said. “He was just this cool costumer.”
Jones has brought that same confidence into the preseason and it has continued to catch the attention of the coaching staff. He can play anything from shooting guard to power forward and is not concerned where and how much. He said playing in practice against senior forward God’sgift Achiwua got him accustomed to the physical play.
“I like it,” he said. “That gets me ready.”
His teammates feel he already is.
“Christian Jones is the sleeper,” Harrison said. “I want you to know that.”