Pigeonholing Derrick Jones never has made sense. From day one, the long-armed wing has offered production rather than a classical array of skills, and while we continue to ponder his ultimate role he simply hits the court and performs.
Jones served notice as a rising sophomore that he'd be a high-major recruit. We didn't see him frequently during the 2012-13 season, but he hit the road with We Are 1 last spring and impressed colleague Brian Snow at the Hoop Group Pittsburgh event. At that early stage he already had compiled high interest from regional majors, including Syracuse, Villanova, Rutgers, Xavier and St. Joe's.
His strong play in the spring resulted in an invitation last June to the NBPA Top 100 Camp, where he proved he could hold his own versus elite players a full year older. He progressed from there to the Reebok Breakout Classic a month later, where he enjoyed multiple days of exposure in front of college coaches.
Jones established himself at that event as one of the country's top run/jump athletes, regardless of class. He's a prime finisher from the baseline thanks to springy leaping ability and long arms. He's very flexible through his upper body and thus able to hang mid-air and contort his body to score in traffic.
In transition, he's a stellar offensive weapon who pushes tempo and naturally is a top-notch finisher when he fills the lane on a break. He has a penchant for catching lobs and getting tip-dunks, and overall he's a very effective offensive rebounder.
Defensively, Jones slots as a wing smotherer who, with greater experience, should become an outstanding contributor on that end of the court. He's actually long enough to defend some power forwards as well, but his physique doesn't lend itself to the post.
Moreover, strength remains one of his two primary needs going forward. He can get pushed around inside and offensively has struggled against some of his more physically robust opponents.
Jones also must tune up his jump shot. He always has been streaky from deep, and watching him this season I've noticed that he passes up too many open attempts. He'll need to round out his game in order to become a consistent halfcourt scorer.
He handles the ball sufficiently for wing forward but, if he wants to move to the backcourt in the future, will need to tighten up his control dribbling. Still, it's his jump shot that requires by far the most urgency in terms of skills.
Jones projects as a potential McDonald's All-American in 2015 and should be an impact player wherever he ends up. He has been linked closely to the Orange, but Kentucky and others have made strong pitches as well. We'll watch him extensively between now and signing day next November.