This story appeared in the Oregon edition of the December ESPN RISE Magazine.
Terrence Jones as the face of Jefferson (Portland, Ore.)? The senior never would've believed it three years ago. But that's what Jefferson boys' basketball coach Pat Strickland now calls Jones, both for how he carries himself off the court and how he carries the Democrats on it.
Jones wasn't exactly heading in that direction as a freshman. School was just a nuisance in the way of his basketball dreams, and he treated it as such. He'd often either show up late for class or ask to be excused in the middle to go to the office, only to never return. Detentions followed, as did poor grades -- he had a 2.0 GPA during the first semester.
Practice was no different. Jones thought he could just show up with his awesome natural talent and dominate. Consistent effort wasn't there.
"I was doing just enough to get by," he recalls.
But there was no way Jones was going to keep this up if his family had anything to say about it. His mom, Linda Mashia-Jones, his grandmother, Pearl, and his six aunts and three uncles were always in his ear, letting him know they wouldn't stand for him slacking in the classroom. Same with Strickland, who also warned his young superstar that basketball might not be an option if he kept getting bad grades.
The light bulb finally went on during the middle of Jones' sophomore year, when he realized he needed to get his act together both on and off the court if he wanted to reach stardom.
"I started working harder in practice and at school," says Jones. "It's what I needed to do to mature and stop acting like a little kid and accept my responsibilities."
"He just really didn't take it serious," adds his mother. "A lot of the boys who play sports seem to think that academics and sports don't go hand in hand. He quickly figured that out as I reminded him every day. Now he says, 'Mom, I got this.'"
In the classroom, he's fulfilled his mom's wishes with a 3.0 GPA. And in hoops, he's become the top player in Oregon and one of the best in the country. The 6-foot-8, 210-pound small forward is rated the nation's No. 15 recruit in the ESPNU 100 and was considering Oklahoma, Washington, Oregon, Kentucky and UCLA at press time.
After seeing little playing time as a freshman, Jones became Jefferson's sixth man in his sophomore year. He showed the results of his newfound effort in practice, playing the majority of every game off the bench and averaging a team-high 17.5 points to go with nine boards and four assists per contest.
Jones saved his best play for the postseason, leading Jefferson (25-1) to the Class 5A state title. His signature moment came in the state quarterfinals against defending champ North Eugene, which starred reigning 5A Player of the Year Brian Conklin (now at St. Louis). North Eugene was essentially playing a home game at Oregon's McArthur Court and the gym was packed.
But none of that mattered to Jones, who hit the game-winning bucket with 0.7 seconds left to break a tie and lift the Demos to a 53-51 win. Strickland says the final play was designed for Jones. He received a pass just outside the 3-point line, drove to the hoop and pulled up at the left elbow. The southpaw banked in the shot and was immediately swarmed by his thrilled teammates. It was sweet satisfaction for Jones, who had been disappointed after scoring only eight points prior to the game-winner.
"I knew I was going to make it," he says. "I was determined to redeem myself for having an OK game when there was that much on the line."
"That's when Terrence Jones arrived," adds Strickland, who's in his second year at the helm after serving as an assistant for 10 seasons.
Last year, Jefferson's repeat hopes were dealt a blow when Terrence Ross, the 2008 Class 5A Player of the Year and now the nation's No. 39 recruit in the ESPNU 100, transferred to Montrose Christian (Rockville, Md.). That meant someone on the Democrats was going to have to step up.
Jones happily obliged, averaging 24.6 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals per game to earn Class 5A Player of the Year honors. And he led Jefferson to its second consecutive state title by tallying 27 points, 18 boards and four dimes in the Democrats' 60-44 win over Century.
As the numbers suggest, Jones filled myriad roles for the Democrats.
"He's probably the most versatile player in high school basketball," says Strickland. "He can play all five positions and defend all five positions on the court. A lot of players have one skill set. Terrence excels at every aspect of the game at his age."
Jones prepped for his senior season by guiding his AAU team to the Center Stage Tournament title in Las Vegas. He also competed in the Boost Mobile Elite 24 in New York, where he played on the winning team and made all four of his shots en route to eight points and three boards.
Expectations are high this year for Jones and the Democrats as they checked in at No. 30 in the preseason ESPN RISE FAB 50. Strickland thinks Jones will be up for the challenge and will be even better than he was during his superb junior campaign.
"It just seems like it's unfair," says Strickland, who played at Oregon State. "It kind of brings me back to (former Lake Oswego National Player of the Year) Kevin Love. Whenever Kevin stepped on the court, he was going to get his numbers and win and do so with a dominant performance. I feel the same way about Terrence."
What else would you expect from the face of Jefferson?