Last winter, Derrick Jones Jr. was a key reserve for Albemarle’s boys basketball team and a lockdown defender and rhythm scorer as one of the first guys off the bench for coach Greg Maynard.
What a difference a year makes. The junior guard grew two inches and has emerged as one of the top scorers for a Patriots’ team that’s pushing Louisa County for the top spot in the Jefferson District.
The 6-foot-4 Jones poured in a career-best 23 points, four assists, four steals and four blocks last Friday during a 67-45 victory over Monticello to garner Schewels Athlete of the Week honors.
“Playing basketball in coach Maynard’s system is really easy, as long as you run the plays hard,” Jones said. “We have a lot of unselfish players and shooters, so with that and the ball handlers we have, it’s a perfect fit for my skill set. I’m tall, can dribble, drive and shoot, so if everyone keys on me, then I have amazing shooters on the wings to kick the ball out to.”
Jones has been a model of consistency this season for the Patriots on both ends of the floor. The junior averages 10.8 points and 3.4 rebounds a game. In addition, he’s chipped in 16 assists, 13 blocks and 10 steals as Albemarle (4-1 overall, 3-0 district) prepares for rival Western Albemarle on Wednesday night.
Maynard said Jones is an extremely important member of this year’s club.
“We need for him to play great defense, score and distribute the ball,” Maynard said. “He is also one of our team leaders. As Derrick continues to mature and become more consistent, I’m sure he will become an outstanding player.”
Jones’ journey to basketball stardom began in elementary school when current Albemarle point guard Dasaun Taylor came to his school. Jones spent most of his childhood splitting time between baseball and football before giving basketball a try.
“Dasaun came to our school and was really good and I was very competitive so I tried to be better than him,” Jones said. “Then I started playing against older kids and I found a love [for basketball]. I loved the excitement and the speed of the game when I played, so that’s when I started playing it more than the other sports.”
Jones has been a fixture on the hardwood ever since. He spends a lot of his free time at the ACAC Family Fitness Center in Charlottesville or the UVA Aquatics and Fitness Center with friends working on his game. He’s also active in the Young Life program and is a mentor to his brother on and off the court.
He patterns his game after Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant. They are both slender players that can score points in bunches and are tough to defend.
During the offseason, Maynard told Jones he would see an expanded role this season. The junior guard worked hard to improve his game and the results have been evident early in the season.
“Going into the season knowing I was going to be one of the key scorers, I had to work a lot on being a leader,” Jones said. “I had to work on a lot of dribbling and off dribble shots to be able to run the offense wherever coach needs me to be.”
The extra work has paid off as Jones looks right at home in Maynard’s motion offense.
“Everyone gets to touch the ball and do what they have to do to get open,” Maynard said. “It keeps everyone moving instead of our players just standing around and one person trying to score. My mindset is always to push the pace and attack before the other team recovers. If we run the floor, it’s very hard to beat us.”
Getting out in transition leads to easy baskets and Jones has been at the forefront of that. He had a big dunk in the district opener against Charlottesville with a one-handed tomahawk dunk, which helped spark his team. Last Friday, he turned a pair of steals into highlight reel jams during a big win at Monticello.
“Being able to dunk helps the energy I can give to the team a lot,” Jones said. “The excitement starts coming into play we all start playing together and everything just falls into place perfectly. My most memorable one was probably the tomahawk against CHS because it really sparked a run and we all played well as a team and really helped us in the long run.”
Going from role player to starter is a tough transition for some, but Jones has embraced the opportunity so far this season.
“I take it as a challenge to make myself better and look for different moves to get past the best defenders on me,” he said. “I think I have the most troubles [against] zone [defenses] if my shot’s not working, but then I find different ways to score and contribute to the team.”
That work ethic served him well prior to last week’s game with Monticello.
“I stayed after practice to get some shots up, just to get prepared,” Jones said. “Coach saw that I was feeling it, so he let me do what I had to do to win.”
The only hiccup for the Patriots this season was a road loss to a very experienced Patrick Henry team in Roanoke. Since that setback, Maynard’s team has reeled off three straight wins.
“The season is going very good so far,” Jones said. “I think experiencing that loss the second game of the season was a good learning experience. We should be very good for the rest of the season and hopefully have a chance for states.”