I knew this opportunity where Johnathon Jones poked his head out of the Oakland team bus following the Golden Grizzlies' exit from the NCAA tournament wouldn't be the last time we saw JJ.
By PAUL KAMPE
Of The Oakland Press
After all the work it took Johnathon Jones to get himself into a position to play professional basketball, there was one minor detail: getting a passport.
All the extra practice, working with coaches on his long-range jumper and making arrangements were surely more vital to his long-term success, but the former Oakland point guard satisfied all international travel requirements and now resides in Slovakia, where he’s preparing for the upcoming season with MBK Rieker Komarno.
Jones, the all-time winningest Oakland player and Summit League assist record-holder, has a one-year deal with the club, which begins play in late-September.
“I was looking at a couple other countries, but I felt this was the best opportunity for me to show what I could do in Europe,” Jones said.
Jones recognized his desire to play at the next level around his sophomore season. Oakland assistant coach Saddi Washington, who saw Jones through the process, saw it much earlier.
“You just kind of know there are some kids who will have a chance to continue playing professionally,” Washington said. “It’s been an ongoing training session with him, as well as the other kids who come through our program.”
Oakland coach Greg Kampe, who has seen nearly 30 players off to professional careers, was sure about Jones from the start. He wrote Jones’ name into the starting lineup of every game he played.
“When you’re a point guard that has won as much as he has, and you’re an assist leader like that, you’re a commodity. He had a lot of options,” Kampe said.
Washington was a worthy mentor for Jones, having played overseas for some three years following his days at Western Michigan. He helps players prepare for even the most mundane activities that might make a player feel out of place.
“The reality of it is you’re walking into an extremely different situation, and the only thing that’s constant there that you’re familiar with is basketball. And even that is a little different because it’s a European style,” Washington said.
It’s up to Jones to determine what happens after this season. Washington said with the right kind of season, Jones could potentially find himself in a more elite league or even on a summer league roster.
Jones had three workouts with the Indiana Pacers before the NBA draft and said the league is still his dream.
“I'm just working on learning the game more and working on my outside shot. That’s the main thing,” he said.
Jones isn’t going to be the only one with a sweet shooting touch. He said he’s noticed that most players in his new league have the range of his former teammate Erik Kangas.
“My coach told (me) I should average a double-double. Sounds outrageous to me, but it’s like a have a big man then three Erik Kangases out there with me. So it might be possible,” he said.
Jones admitted he’s worried about getting homesick, but with the world of technology as it is, computers and the good, old-fashioned phone should keep him in touch with friends and family. And although the scenery is “way different than home,” Jones will at least have a somewhat familiar face on the team. Former Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne player Jaraun Burrows is also on the team.
Although he’ll be half a world away, Jones has already sized up the competition for his former teammates back on campus. The Golden Grizzlies open the season in November and begin their quest to repeat as Summit League champions in December.
“With the team that they have, they will win the league and at least win the first game in the NCAA tournament,” Jones said.
“I was working out with them before I left, and you can tell that the team is not satisfied with last year’s success. They want to do even better, and that’s a great thing to see.”
Everyone knows it will be challenging to replace Jones on the court.
“You don’t just replace a Johnathon Jones. You have a committee of people trying to get done what he got done for you,” Kampe said.
“The thing I’m worried about is leadership. He made big plays down the stretch. He was a stopper for us, too.”
Jones’ co-leader, forward Derick Nelson, is still in the process of signing a deal to play overseas, but “he’s just waiting to find the right fit,” Kampe said.
It looks like Jones has already found his.
Paul Kampe covers Oakland University basketball for The Oakland Press. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @PaulKampe.