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Under the Radar

Rarely mentioned in the hype leading up to the season, Jeremy Jones could be a significant contributor to this year’s team

NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

My favorite line about David Pendergraft is if he had Sean Mallon’s body he’d be an All-American. I’ve often wondered something similar about Mike Hart; what if he were just a little taller, with a little more reach and athleticism? Could he have had a bigger part in the offense? Been a shut-down defender? Could he have grabbed some of those back-tapped rebounds and put them in the basket? I may find out this season because Gonzaga has an uber-athletic hardnosed, lunch pail, glue guy who could earn himself significant playing time this year.

Jeremy Jones was born in Houston and grew up in San Antonio, Texas. His father and an older brother were both D-1 football players, so Jeremy started playing football at an early age. In high school at San Antonio’s East Central, he was part of quarterback platoon with another older brother, Christian. When Christian graduated, Jeremy became the lone starter at QB. During his senior season, he had nearly 2,000 yards passing, 730 running and 20 touchdowns, good enough to earn a football scholarship at Rice University. Given his family background and growing up in Texas, football was his #1 sport, but he also loved and exceled in basketball earning four varsity letters in high school.

In a San Antonio Express article, his high school basketball coach, Jeff Sweet, said, “Jeremy is the smartest basketball player I’ve ever coached or been around. He just has an incredible court presence and defensively was where he made his mark. He gave us defensive rebounding and toughness, but at times you could also see flashes of unbelievable offensive skills. If he would have concentrated on basketball, he would have been the best player in the city and one of the best in the state.”

After redshirting his freshman season for the Rice football team, he walked on to the basketball team after the football season officially ended on 1 Dec. Rice basketball was glad to have him. He appeared in the next 24 games, often as the first player off the bench, even starting two games. Despite shooting 50% for the season, he only took 1.6 shots per game but did have 21 steals, 10 blocks and received accolades for his solid defense. At the end of the season he’d decided to concentrate on basketball full-time.

Rice University is in Houston, Texas and it just so happens so were the Zags at the end of Jones freshman season. GU would be playing UCLA and Duke in the South Regional Final. Jeremy saw the games and was impressed the way GU integrated transfers and developed players. He contacted the coaching staff about transferring, received his release from Rice and ended up in Spokane along with transfers Nigel Williams-Goss and JWIII. He’d be a preferred walk-on, meaning he would have to earn a scholarship or could receive one if any slots were open.

Starting last season, Jeremy appeared ready to compete for playing time but injured his ankle in the pre-season scrimmage against Baylor. While he was out for 13 games, Gonzaga went undefeated and the player rotation was set. On the bright side, after his ankle healed, he and Rui were the first two players off the bench in garbage-time and he did get some meaningful minutes during the season.

Two question marks for Gonzaga entering this season are the thin frontcourt and the inexperienced bench. Another inch has been added to Jeremy’s official bio, so at 6’7” with long arms he’ll probably spend time at the “4” and possibly significant time in case of injury. In fact, I expect to see him at the 2, 3 or 4 early in the season as Few experiments with and fine-tunes the line-up. Unlike Norvell, Kispert and Wade, Jeremy has experience, played meaningful minutes at the D-1 level and has spent the last two years playing against some of the best players in the nation.

At this year’s Seattle Tip-off event, Tommy Lloyd had nothing but good things to say about Jeremy and his work ethic, calling him a tough, hard-nosed player. He also said he is on scholarship this season. With GU’s increased emphasis on defense and concerns about rebounding, Jeremy could fill several roles for the Zags this season. After all, the guy good enough to start for a D-1 team as a freshman when basketball was his second sport.