NBA draft: Vanderbilt star and Scotlandville grad Damian Jones wants ‘the chance to prove myself’ _lowres

Vanderbilt center Damian Jones (30) and Baylor forward Rico Gathers get the jump-ball call during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Cheering for a nice guy to finish first is easy. That’s part of why plenty of people are pulling for former Scotlandville High post player Damian Jones going into the NBA draft.

Jones helped the Hornets win back-to-back Class 5A state titles in 2012-13 and is set to be the school’s first NBA draft pick, Scotlandville coach Carlos Sample said.

One key question remains: Will a nice guy like Jones get drafted in the first round?

“I don’t know when I’ll get picked or who will draft me,” Jones said. “I worked out for several teams, and I did the (NBA) combine.

“I’d like for it to be a team that’s the best fit, one I can contribute to soon and grow with. That’s all I can ask for. I want the chance to prove myself.”

The former Vanderbilt star plans to watch Thursday’s draft coverage from his parents’ West Baton Rouge Parish home, knowing a list of possibilities for his NBA future could stretch almost as long as his 7-foot frame.

“My thing is this — we need to celebrate whereever he gets drafted because this is a huge accomplishment,” Jones’ mother, Dana, said. “We can’t control the draft. We know this is something he’s worked extremely hard for.”

Draft projections have Jones going anywhere from the middle of the first round to the beginning of the second round. He was a two-time first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection and averaged 13.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game for the Commodores as a junior.

Jones did more than hone his game defensively and extend his shooting range to 18 feet. He is 23 hours away from a degree in engineering science after three years at a top academic school.

The focus switched from home work to road work in recent weeks. Jones worked out for Phoenix, San Antonio, Atlanta, Toronto, Memphis, Boston and Orlando.

One ESPN model had Jones as the No. 30 pick by Golden State earlier this week. Others recent draft models have Jones going at No. 23 to Boston and No. 28 to Phoenix. Pre-draft critiques are just as diverse.

Former NBA player and coach John Lucas lauded Jones after an April workout. Lucas tweeted, “Just left gym with Damian Jones of Vanderbilt. His skill set is that of bigger version of Antonio McDyess. His athleticism intrigues you.”

Another NBA scout also raves about Jones, saying: “Damian Jones has impressive size and athleticism for the position, and he also has the ability to step up out and make the mid-range jumper — which is how the NBA is kind of moving these days, being able to shoot (from) all positions is important.

“From what we’ve heard, he’s a high-character kid. That certainly bodes well for him. So the size, athleticism and ability to shoot makes him an appealing prospect.”

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas offered a more critical review.

“Yeah, late first round, early second because of his size and athleticism,” Bilas said in a recent ESPN transcript. “He’s 6-11, 7 feet, and he’s got a wing span close to 7-4. He can really run, and he’s got a lot of ability.”

Bilas lauded Jones’ defensive skills and shooting touch, but noted: “He just needs to do it at a higher level and sustain it for longer periods.”

Jones says local fans who haven’t seen him since his prep days at Scotlandville would be surprised by his expanded offensive game and his heightened ability to defend around the goal.

“I’ve got to thank all my coaches, the ones from middle school, high school and AAU who helped me get to this point,” Jones said.

Now relatives, former coaches and ex-teammates are eager to see what direction the NBA draft points Jones in.

“Damian is a humble kid and a high-character guy who I think still has a huge upside as a player,” Sample said. “It’s a great time to be a Hornet. Tonight is going to be a like the night before a state championship game. I probably won’t get much sleep, because I’ll be thinking about the draft.”