RADNOR, Pa. —
He's a little on the spindly side. All arms, legs, elbows and wavy arm sleeves.
Don't let that fool you. Derrick Jones
is explosive, strong and has added a consistent jump shot to his game and is a defensive force.
The 6-foot-6, 190-pound Archbishop Carroll (Radnor, Pa.)
junior shooting guard is rapidly being considered one of the best players in the country. He's backed it up by showing an explosive improvement this summer. He already has the attention of Philadelphia's venerable Big 5 (Temple, Villanova, St. Joseph's, Penn and La Salle), and now the big-times, like Kentucky coach John Calipari, are calling.
The two-year starter will return as possibly the best player in the southeastern Pennsylvania area, one of the prime pools of basketball talent in the country (producing Kobe Bryant, Jameer Nelson and Tyreke Evans), along with Neuman-Goretti's Ja'Quan Newton.
As a sophomore last year, Jones averaged just more than 17 points per game last year for the Patriots, the PIAA state runner-up that will threaten Newton's Neumann-Goretti in the formidable Philadelphia Catholic League next season.
Jones proved he could play during his freshman year, when Pats coach Paul Romanczuk had no qualms about thrusting him into a starting role to replace an injured senior. Jones had to gear himself to a new role as a defensive stopper.
"I did kind of question myself, wondering if I could do it and if I could play and score at the high school varsity level," Jones admitted. "As the season started going on, I realized I could play and I could score. I was asked to play defense and that came naturally, doing things like help defense and rebound. I was willing to do anything to help my team win. I didn't like it then — but I like winning and helping my team win."
Jones' selfless quality is what has enamored Romanczuk to him. The Carroll coach has been impressed by how much Jones works on his game and his willingness to do whatever it takes to aid the team.
"Derrick was playing about 10 minutes a game his freshman year, and when a senior went down with an injury, Derrick stepped right in and he's started ever since," Romanczuk said. "I just think Derrick was ready then. He gave us an added dimension to our team that took off after that. Derrick brought us something we didn't have at the time. He protected the rim and was so good defensively, especially around the basket with timing I never saw from someone his age before.
"Derrick got pushed around a little bit his freshman year. But he was such a factor, and there is a toughness to him. He kept getting back up, for as many times as he got banged up and knocked to the floor."
Still, there was Jones, an extended hand out to deflect a shot, or altering the course of a shot. Nothing was safe around the basket with him there.
Last season, Romanczuk let Jones unleash the other part of his game on the offensive end.
"Derrick plays much bigger than his height," Romanczuk said. "I don't know what his wingspan is, but he's so long it has to be near 7 feet. On top of that, he's so athletic that he's really become a game-changer on both ends of the floor. It started off on the defensive end and his game has gotten better and better on the offensive end that he can change the game there, too."
That wasn't always the case. Jones honed his talent through time. He'd always play against older kids and was often one of the last players chosen. He remembers the times he was pushed around on the concrete courts.
That's stayed with him.
"When I was younger, and was so much smaller and skinnier than everyone else, I didn't play physical at all," Jones recalled. "They just moved me out of the way. It's why I would like to get up to around 210, 215 pounds. I think I can play at that weight.
"I want to add more range to my shot this summer and it's the first time I'm really lifting weights. I think driving the ball is one of my strengths, but I know at the higher level, I will have to add more range to my shot."
With Jones as the hub, and 6-10 Ernest Aflakpui
returning, along with a special freshman, guard David Beatty, Carroll could be the No. 1 team in southeastern Pennsylvania.
"I can't wait to play next season," Jones said. "I want to win the Catholic League championship and want to win a state title. I'm ready to be a leader if we're down and be that person to get the team's motor going again. I know I'm going to have to be more of a leader, too, and speak up. My freshman year I was pretty shy. I think I got out of it a little bit last year, and next year, I won't be shy at all. I'll speak up."
All the nation's major college coaches are listening.