A.J.'s Way

Aaron Jones walked off a basketball court for the final time as a high school standout Friday night.

His team, Gautier High School, lost in heartbreaking fashion to Forest Hill -- a deciding 3-pointer with just under a minute to play knocking the Gators out of the 5A South State tournament.

"I was talking to my teammates (Monday), telling them we should still be playing right now," Jones said.

Jones, stats-wise, had done his part in the game. He scored a team-high 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked four shots. But as he headed to the locker room, he continued to second-guess himself.

"We fell apart defensively in the fourth quarter," he said. "Their top guy, he drove and I stepped up. I knew I had a 3-point shooter on my side, but I was caught between. I didn't know what to do. So when I stepped up, they kicked it out to a 3-point shooter. He knocked it down. They won it by one point."

Jones signed with Ole Miss in November
Courtesy: Mississippi Press/Joshua Dahl
Forest Hill advanced to take on Wayne County -- and was eliminated -- the next day. Jones, meanwhile, returned to the gym after the 35-34 loss. He attempted shot after shot. Jones is a dedicated player, committed to improving. It's what he does.

So he shot. And he shot. And he shot. There was no changing the final outcome from hours before. His high school career was over. But he worked anyway.

"After (the game), I just went to the gym and knocked down some shots," he said. "I can improve on every aspect of my game. I'm always up for improvement in my game."

The early exit from the playoffs aside, Jones' senior season couldn't have gone any better.

Gautier improved its record from 17-11 in 2010 to 20-9 overall this season. The 6-foot-8, 205-pound Jones made marked improvement in every statistical category other than assists.

He averaged 20.5 points, 13 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 5.0 blocks. As a junior, Jones averaged 19.7 points, 11.2 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 4.0 blocks.

"It's been one of the best seasons since (Gautier head) Coach (Keith) McQueen's been here," Jones said. "This is the first time that we played like a team and a family. We passed the ball more and got everybody shots."

Now Jones, a member of the (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger's Dandy Dozen, is focused on his future.

He signed with Ole Miss in November over Mississippi State, Memphis, Florida, UTEP and Baylor. Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy and staff had recruited him for the better part of three years.

Once an unheralded prospect, Jones is known as a versatile combo forward who can step outside and make jump shots. He has a 7-foot-2 wingspan to help him block shot attempts at the rim.

"I'm going to work on everything. It feels like (entering) high school again," Jones said of readying for his arrival at Ole Miss. "I'm just looking forward to it. The day I get up there, I probably won't go to sleep that night, knowing I'll be at Ole Miss the next day. I'm ready to make some new friends and meet some new people."

"A.J. is an anomaly is today's recruiting world in that he did not play any AAU basketball over the spring and summer leading into his senior year," Kennedy said in a press release in November. "He is a long, athletic forward with a very high skill level. We are very excited about his future at Ole Miss."

Jones feels he can make an immediate impact in a rather thin front court for Ole Miss. But if he doesn't, it's fine by him. Honestly, his only goal is to add weight. He added five pounds this season, and is working to eventually weigh 230.

"Whatever helps my team to win, that's what I'm about," he said. "If I have to sit on the bench and let other people play, I'm down as long as we're winning."

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