Point guard Chris Jones (Memphis, Tenn./NW Florida JC) committed to Louisville on Monday, one day following his official visit. He's regarded as the No. 1 junior college player in the country.
In Jones, Rick Pitino's Cardinals landed one of the most important recruits of the year. Typically, that's a distinction accorded high school talent but in this case, it's a junior college player.
Ranked No. 67 as a high school senior, Jones became a first-team All-American last season at Northwest Florida. The 2012 Panhandle Conference Player of the Year was the first freshman afforded that distinction since Chris Porter nearly 15 years ago. He averaged 18 points a game for the national juco runner-ups.
"He's a fierce competitor, won a state championship in high school, played for a national championship last year in juco," NW Florida coach Steve Forbes said. "Now he has the opportunity to compete for a national championship at the next level and play for a Hall of Fame coach."
In picking Louisville, Jones passed on offers from a host of programs that had been recruiting point guards, including Kansas, Florida State, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
In the last 10 years, prep school has been where most high school graduates have opted to go; at least, many of the elite former high school players have ended up there. The junior college ranks aren't nearly as deep with high-end talent. It's not often that a junior college recruit is this heavily sought during the early period.
Jones was a priority for programs because of his background, résumé and overall talent level. Forbes, his junior college coach, was an assistant at Tennessee. He has seen his share of players in the JC ranks.
"I saw Steve Francis play a long time ago. He was obviously a good player. I coached Brandon Hughes, who went to Michigan out of junior college. There's no question that over the last few years [Jones is] the best I've seen," Forbes said. "He has few holes in his game, and his competiveness takes him over the top."
Jones' pledge to Louisville means that the entire 2011 Tennessee recruiting class, the final class recruited by Bruce Pearl (Forbes was an assistant on the staff) wound up at Louisville. Guard Kevin Ware was a freshman for the Cardinals last season.
Louisville's recruiting class is guard-heavy. Anton Gill (Raleigh, N.C./Ravenscroft), Terry Rozier (Cincinnati, Ohio/Hargrave) and now Jones give the Cardinals the makings of a pre-signing day top-five class.