Roosevelt Jones celebrated his 24th birthday last Wednesday in dogged pursuit of his NBA dream.
As a member of the Canton Charge of the NBA’s Developmental League, the former O’Fallon Panthers standout is at least two steps ahead of everyone who told him his basketball career had hit its ceiling.
“I’m used to hearing that,” Jones said. “Whenever I go to a new level, I have to prove myself all over again. To tell you the truth, I don’t really have a problem doing that.”
Jones averaged 17.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game as a senior at O’Fallon in 2011, but drew scarce interest from college recruiters.
He signed on with Butler University, which was coming fresh off consecutive appearances in the NCAA championship game. After four years as a Bulldogs’ starter, Jones left the Indianapolis school ranked first all-time in games played, fourth in assists, fifth in rebounds, eighth in steals and 12th in scoring with 1,533 points.
When I first came the Canton coaches were calling my Butler coaches trying to figure how they should use me ... I just told them if you put me out there I'll be fine.
That might have been the end of the road for Jones. But last summer, he hired sports agent Dewey Hawkins of JCK Sports Group to help him weigh his professional options.
He assumed he’d land overseas like former Althoff and Saint Louis University standout Kevin Lisch, but the offers, once again, were limited.
“My agent asked me what I wanted to do and I said ‘just find me the best option,’” said Jones, a two-time All-Big East second-team pick at Butler. “He came back with a couple of offers from overseas that I didn’t like.”
In the meantime, Hawkins made sure Jones was one of the 50 players invited to an NBA Developmental League draft tryout last September in New York City. He performed well enough that, on Oct. 30, he became the 19th overall pick and first-round choice of the Canton Charge, the developmental team of the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
The right role
Of the six players selected by Canton, Jones was the only one to make the 12-man regular season roster and has kept himself on the 10-man active list.
The NBA D-League consists of 15 affiliated teams with players typically making between $20,000 and $25,000 during the five-month season. According to the NBA, about a third of its players have spent time in the developmental league.
As has been typical, Canton coaches weren’t sure how best to utilize Jones’ unique set of skills.
At 6-foot-4, he’s a small forward, but at 225 pounds he’s a huge guard.
Offensively, he’s closer to the former, an excellent rebounder and a competent shooter from within 12 feet or so. In four years in college, he attempted just four shots from 3-point range, making one of them, while hitting 45.4 percent of his overall field goal attempts.
I want to play as long as I can, but I don't know how long that will be. It's just something I have to evaluate after each year.
Defense is Jones’ specialty. He’s strong enough to cover bigger players, but experienced and quick enough to keep check on opposing guards.
“When I first came the Canton coaches were calling my Butler coaches trying to figure how they should use me,” Jones said. “It’s been a matter of me finding my spots and finding my role.
“I just told them if you put me out there I’ll be fine.”
Canton coaches are still trying to figure him out, using him both as a shooting guard and small forward. But Jones has worked his way into the starting five and has been productive.
Getting his groove
Jones didn’t get more than 17 minutes of playing time until the 10th game of the Charge’s season and not more than 30 until the 14th.
Part of that was because of a back strain and a minor leg injury. The other part was adjusting to the speed of the professional game.
“It’s much faster, plus there is a shorter shot clock at 24 (seconds). You have to get into a quicker shot set and get it off,” he said. “The team we played the other day, they got 51 3s off. Yeah, it’s a different game at this level.”
He had a breakout game Dec. 16 against the Delaware 87ers with 15 points and 12 rebounds in 31 minutes played.
Jones posted consecutive double-doubles earlier this month, including a 21-point, 13-rebound performance Jan. 11 against the Santa Cruz Warriors.
He’s currently averaging 5.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and two assists in more than 23 minutes of playing time per game. The Charge are in third place in the Eastern Conference, Central Division of the NBA D-League.
Whenever I go to a new level, I have to prove myself all over again. To tell you the truth, I don't really have a problem doing that.
“My game has improved and I feel like I’m figuring out the spacing and getting into a grove on the floor. It’s all coming to me now,” he said. “I have to keep moving on those things my coaches and (general manager) want me to improve on.”
Jones has built a career on exceeding the expectations of others while keeping check on his own.
At Butler, Jones earned bachelor of arts degrees in both strategic communications and digital media production. He hopes to make a career behind the scenes in sports television and will intern during the off-season at Fox Sports Indiana.
If he decides on his own that his progress has stalled, he says he’ll give up his goal of an NBA contract and be content that he gave it his best effort.
“The D-league won’t cover me the rest of my life — at some point I’ll have to make a better income — but right now it helps me improve and has gotten me a step toward me achieving my goal of playing in NBA.
“I want to play as long as I can, but I don’t know how long that will be. It’s something I have to evaluate after each year.”
At a glance
These are Roosevelt Jones’ career highlights:
Canton Charge, NBA D-League
- 2016-17 5.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2 apg (25 games)
Butler University 2011-2016
- 2015-16 13.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 50 steals, 154 assists
- 2014-15 12.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 31 steals, 125 assists
- 2013-14 OUT
- 2012-13 10.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 31 steals, 126 assists
- 2011-12 7.8 ppg, 6 rpg, 35 steals, 59 assists
O’Fallon High School 2007-2011
- 2010-11 17.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 77 steals, 122 assists
- 2009-10 19.3 ppg, 12.1 rpg, 113 steals, 140 assists
- 2008-09 12.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 50 steals, 117 assists
- 2007-08 one game played, no stats