The NBA isn’t in Seattle anymore, of course. Not that it mattered for Terrence Ross much last summer. A year before the Washington Husky became one of the biggest risers in the NBA Draft, the league came to him. He stepped into runs that were as much a test of his pro future as much as his college present, playing against Seattle natives or former players Nate Robinson, Spencer Hawes, Nick Collison and Jamal Crawford, to name a few. When I talked with Robinson last fall about Ross, he said he walked out impressed about the young guy of the group. It was at least an important step toward making GMs impressed, too. How important? I’ve got to think, after talking with him and the No. 18 pick to Houston Terrence Jones — his former running mate going back to before days at Portland’s Jefferson High — in November that those games were the most important games he’s ever played.
I had the same thoughts many were thinking when Ross was taken at No. 8 by Toronto last night: This high? Ross is a first-round talent but some had his teammate, Tony Wroten, valued even higher than the sophomore. Also valued above Ross? Jones, the player who can shape-shift into three, possibly four, different positions. When I talked with the guys and their Jefferson High coach, Pat Strickland, last autumn he talked about the gulf that crept between the two once Ross left for Montrose Christian, then returned to Jefferson. The two were inseparable before Ross left, and the news of his departure — broken to the Democrats as they rode a bus to a summer league game, left Jones in tears. Here’s what Jones told me then:
“I mean we were young in high school so it wasn’t even his decision for better educational reasons,” Jones says. “I called my mom trying to convince her to have Marcine change her mind. It just felt like we were messing up our group and changed what we planned to do.”
The dynamic had changed once Ross returned. Jones was now THE GUY and the object of every college coach’s affection. When he went back on his verbal commitment to Washington and Ross, it seemed to be perfect symmetry. That’s not to say a bond isn’t still there. They call each other when they’re both in the Northwest, they said independently, and still hang out in the same group of Northeast Portland friends. If they’re not each other’s first calls anymore, they’re not far after. Doesn’t mean it’s not better; it’s just different.
“They called themselves the Fab Five at Jefferson,” Strickland said last fall. “They thought they were going to be playing their careers together and it didn’t end up happening that way. After that, they talk here and there. I still don’t know how close they are.”
It’s that sense of trying to prove a doubt wrong that drives everyone, of course. With these two though, especially from the same neighborhood and high school, the pressure to one-up sounded unspoken if rarely shown the more people I talked with. Had Ross not moved away and seen what Jones could become, had they stayed inseparable of friends, I’m not sure they’d have risen to this level. I could have seen them go to the same school and stay the same players they always were. Instead, by breaking off they developed the pieces necessary to get here. For Ross, it’s always been defense. Toronto’s DeMar Derozan is already a shoot-first guard like Ross, so that is how he’ll distinguish himself. He should be familiar with that, having had to do it once already at UW. As Washington’s Lorenzo Romar said:
“It forces you, if you have any pride, to figure it out,” Romar says. “He has the talent to reach a lot of goals, be the best you can be. With some, the best you can be is you wind up being the sixth man; with him it’s being able to play for a long time after college.”
Jones had to work within a system better, especially if that system wasn’t built around him. He possesses many of the talents that LeBron James has as a big man who can drive, dish and rebound in addition to scoring. Playing with Kentucky’s talented freshmen this season brought that out as he was no longer option No. 1. And moreover, he had to show he wanted it. In some ways he had the problem Andre Drummond was dogged with during the draft process, of fending off questions about his intensity.
Last summer was about getting better individually for each guy. Jones was in Lexington most the time, and Ross of course in Seattle. You knew they were checking in on each other, either indirectly or directly, about their progress toward NBA Draft night. And you know the passion remains to prove who’s best even as they remain friends — a progression that’s already brought them into the first round now and unknown destinations yet to come. I’m excited to see it happen.
What potential do Ross and Jones have in the NBA?
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