The University of Kentucky sent six players to the NBA draft this year. All six players were drafted, a record for players drafted from a single institution. This likely contributed to Terrence Jones being overlooked by many teams, and his draft pick being lower than most expected.
Kentucky teammates Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist were chosen first and second respectively. Jones was the next Wildcat chosen at 18th by the Houston Rockets, in what many consider to be the steal of the draft.
Jones has been destined for basketball since a young age. He led Jefferson High School to three consecutive Oregon Class 5A state championships, twice winning the Oregon State 5A player of the year award.
In his freshman debut at Kentucky, he posted 25 points and 12 rebounds against East Tennessee State. During the same season, he dominated in a game against Auburn and holds Kentucky's single-game freshman scoring record at 35 points.
The year was going well, until Kentucky met Connecticut during the Final Four; it was a close game, but Kentucky lost by a gut-wrenching score of 56-55.
Even with the possibilities of a multimillion-dollar contract, Jones wanted to win the NCAA championship, and returned to Kentucky for another season.
"Winning has always been my thing," he said, according to The Oregonian. "Going to Jeff, winning three state champs, I'll do whatever it takes to win. A lot of people play for a lot of different reasons, but I think winning is what it's all about. I think that's what people should care about."
The next season, Kentucky had a stacked team with the addition of Davis, Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague. There were questions about whether Jones rejoining was a good decision for him personally, as doubts lingered about whether there would be enough shots to go around.
Indeed, Jones' stats did go down. He went from averaging 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds a game his freshman season, to 12.3 points and 7.2 rebounds a game his sophomore year. However, his draft stock wasn't Jones' main concern.
The Wildcats finished 38-2 the next season with a 16-0 record in the SEC. More importantly, Kentucky won the NCAA championship.
"I wasn't going back for anything about my draft stock or the NBA," he said. "I went back to win a national championship. That was the goal, so I was happy with that accomplishment."
Of all those in this year's draft, Jones' physique appears to be the most NBA-ready at 6'9'' and 252 pounds. He has put on around 20 pounds since his freshman season, showing the amount of dedication he has placed in the gym, continually improving on his greatest asset: his athleticism.
He often mismatched his opponents in college, too quick and athletic for an opposing PF and too strong against another SF. Jones finishes extremely nice at the rim. He's a strong slasher, runs the floor well and can hit the open jumper from the perimeter.
In his tenure at Kentucky, he's shown that he can play against more physical players. Jones' coach at Kentucky, John Calipari, switched him from a SF to a PF during his sophomore season. And although this partly contributed to his point decline, as well as his minutes being dropped slightly, his scoring efficiency went up.
Of course, like all NBA rookies, there are doubts.
Jones is gifted with a wide variety of talents, and is versatile, but he doesn't have a particular skill set that would enable him to be dominant in a particular position. As a SF, his lack of a midrange game and frequency of not squaring his shoulders to shoot makes his shooting suspect. He is either going straight to the bucket or shooting a three-pointer.
In addition, he's still developing his post play, and is often cited for not being aggressive enough to be an NBA PF. In Houston, he may encounter the same problem with the PF position, as the Rockets are deep in that position, especially with the drafting of fellow rookie Royce White. However, with Houston coach Kevin McHale being a former post player, McHale should be ideal to continue to foster Jones' talent.
His former Kentucky coach Calipari also had some negative comments about Jones. During a nationally televised game against Alabama, Calipari used several profanities to describe Jones' performance, all while being recorded by ESPN. That wasn't the only incident; during a dismal performance against Indiana, Calipari remarked that Jones "absolutely gave us zero today."
Calipari has brushed those comments aside though, stating they simply come with coaching.
"There's a part of him that wants your affection, wants to know that he's doing good. You have to give him a hug and tell him you're proud of him every now and then," he said (via The Oregonian). "And I was. You hate to say we have favorites, but we do, and he was one of those kids for me.
"He's someone that I'm really anxious to see in (the NBA) because I have a good feeling about what he's going to be. When he is just focused on the games and himself and getting better, in that league, I think you are going to see a guy who is going to take off."
Overall, if Jones continues to improve both his shooting and his post play, he can be a dominant force in the NBA. With several state championship titles, and now an NCAA title, he has a winning pedigree.
Although Rockets rookies White and Lamb are getting all the attention, the Rockets may have picked the best underrated player of the draft.