It may have taken longer than expected, but Ian Jones is finally a college basketball player. He’ll join East Carolina University’s men’s basketball team as a walk-on for the 2019-2020 season.
The former Harnett Central point guard was a stud on the court in his two years on the varsity level, leading the Trojans in scoring with 14.6 points per game as a junior and 16.3 points per game as a senior in the 2016-2017 season. But he couldn’t seem to get any big offers to play at the next level.
“He got better each year, and it was a surprise to me that he didn’t get any looks,” said Harnett Central boys basketball coach Will Gage. “He had great size for a guard at 6-foot-3, he was scoring a lot of points against some really good teams and he was also a really good student. I couldn’t figure out what they didn’t see in him.”
Jones chose to go to ECU without any inclination that he’d ever play for the Pirates. Still, he knew he wanted to stay involved with the game of basketball. So Gage help set him up with Erwin native W.A. Myatt, who is the program coordinator for Men’s Basketball Administration at ECU.
Jones joined the team as a manager and was put on the scout team as a freshman. He got the chance to practice against ECU’s starters and help prepare them for upcoming opponents. Jones was told that it was rare for managers to work their way up to walk-on status, but he just kept grinding. He worked many early mornings, late nights and long hours in between.
“It’s been a really humbling experience,” Jones said. “A lot of people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes as a manager.”
Jones’ dedication was finally rewarded a few weeks ago. He was helping work one of the Pirates’ summer camps on June 1 when Dooley called him into his office to let him know that he had earned a spot on the team as a walk-on.
“There were so many emotions in that moment,” Jones said. “I was just so thankful and happy that my hard work had finally paid off. There’s a lot more work to be done, but right now I’m just thankful for the opportunity.”
Jones understands it’s rare for walk-ons to get much playing time at the Division I level, but he also understands that he’s overcome the odds once already just to make it here. And he hopes that he’ll be able to contribute to the team as much as possible.
“I’m going to keep working hard,” Jones said. “If the opportunity comes, I’ll make the most of it. But I’m not too worried about it. I just want to help the team in whatever ways I can. I know how it feels to be at the top as the best player on the team, and I know how it feels to be at the bottom. Everyone’s role is equally important, so I just want to fill my role as best I can, whatever it may be.”
Gage said he wasn’t too surprised of Jones’ accomplishment.
“I always had it in the back of my mind that he’d find somewhere to play,” Gage said. “He’s such a great kid, and it’s refreshing to see someone so deserving to get an opportunity like this. And it gives kids in our program something to aspire to. If you’re interested in the opportunity to stay involved in the game, you can make it happen.”
After college, Jones hopes to turn his experience as both a manager and a player into a stint as a graduate assistant on a college basketball team. He said that one day he’d like to either be coaching at the college level or working in an NBA front office.
“I love the game of basketball,” Jones said. “It’s done so much for me in my life, it’s hard to picture life without it.”