Joseph Jones, a muscle-bound 6-9, 250 pound center/forward from Normangee (TX), might be from a small town. But gauging from recent interest in his abilities, he's certainly a big-time prospect from the Class of 2004.
"It's been kind of crazy around here," said Normangee head coach Alan Andrus.
In recent weeks, Normangee High School has served host to "who's who" list of college coaches. Last week, the in-state schools came in for visits as Melvin Watkins (Texas A&M), Ray McCallum (Houston), and Bobby Knight (Texas Tech) dropped by. This week, Stan Heath (Arkansas), Rick Barnes (Texas), Josh Pastner (on behalf of the newly married Lute Olson of Arizona), and Roy Williams (North Carolina) came in. And next week, Bill Self (Kansas) and Eddie Sutton (Oklahoma State) will be making their presence known on campus.
Clearly, interest is high in the young man who despite facing double and triple teams every night, averaged 18 points and 14.9 rebounds, leading Normangee to a 31-2 record and a #1 ranking in the state for Class 1A schools. According to Andrus, he is totally open at this point in his recruiting. But the process of elimination will begin pretty soon.
"We'll rank the schools after this spring and narrow it down," said Andrus. "By August we hope to have it knocked down to about three schools."
Jones made his presence known on the national scene last spring/summer as a member of the Houston Select AAU squad, a team chock full of Division I talents such as Cartier Martin (Kansas State), Blake Adams (TCU), and Jawann McClellan(Arizona), and several others. Although Jones didn't get to do much offensively with so many talented scorers on the squad, schools were clearly impressed with not only his body, but his willingness to do the dirty work in the paint such as rebound and block shots.
For his high school team though, he is the main man. Even so, he doesn't play as if he's the only player on the court. His game has progressed over the course of this past year.
"He's really improved all the way around this past season," said Andrus. "He had players around him who could shoot the ball. Joe is so unselfish when he plays, he'll get the ball inside and then kick it out to the open person."
According to Andrus, Jones has been working on establishing a solid mid-range shot. But his home is definitely in the lane, where Jones is a man amongst boys.
"He's benching over 300 pounds right now," said Andrus. "He's got a very strong upper body. We're working on his lower body and his explosion."
As you might expect from a small-town kid, location could be a factor in his college decision. It has been thought by many that it would be a hard sell getting Jones out of grasp of the Big 12, if not the in-state schools. But the recent attention from other national powers and his experience with AAU play may have opened things a bit.
"At first he didn't want to be too far away," said Andrus. "But he traveled (with Houston Select) a lot in the summer, and that opened his eyes a bit about going elsewhere."
Immediate playing time will also be a factor - and it's something that Jones is keeping a close eye on.
"He talks to his buddies from Houston about who is recruiting who and stuff like that," said Andrus. "He's not going to go somewhere where there are already four power forwards or anything like that."
One thing also very attractive about Jones to colleges is the fact he is a tremendous student. He currently sports a 3.0+ GPA in an honors curriculum and will take the SAT on May 3rd ("I'd be shocked if he didn't do well on that," said Andrus). In fact, by the time Jones graduates from Normangee, he will likely have 12 college credits under his belt.
"He's very conscious about his grades," said Andrus. "He's just a sharp kid."
Even with all the recent hubbub, Jones is still just a small-town guy with a level head.
"He's a yes-sir, no-sir kind of kid," said Andrus. "He's really humble about everything going on around him."
Jones will be playing again with Houston Select this spring/summer and will be a participant at Adidas ABCD Camp in July. Be sure to watch for updates on his progress this off-season.
Jed Tai is a senior writer for Hoopville.com.