From hoop dreams in high school to playing for some of the hottest teams in the NBA, basketball has taken Damian Jones a long way.
“The journey isn’t over. I keep on working,” said Jones, who recently completed a short-term contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.
From a high school state championship in Louisiana to two NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors, Jones has always enjoyed “cutting down the nets,” a tradition after a basketball win, and hopes to get another chance to do that as an NBA player.
Jones got Vanderbilt University’s attention while playing at Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge, where he was a Rivals.com 4-star recruit and averaged 15.4 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and two assists as a senior.
At Vanderbilt he played 99 games averaging 13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds and finishing second in school career blocks with 167. His 56.6 percentage from the field was third best in Vanderbilt history.
After being First-Team All-SEC at Vanderbilt his sophomore and junior seasons and helping the Commodores secure an NCAA tournament berth in 2016, Jones was drafted by Golden State in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft (No. 30 overall). He was the starting center for 22 games in 2019.
Through professional basketball Jones, who was traded to the Atlanta Hawks in 2019 and spent time with the Phoenix Suns before being signed by the Lakers in February, has been able to share his faith and provide a platform for “trying to live the right way and share the good life with others,” he said.
‘Have to rely on faith’
His faith is always in mind.
“Any tough time that I have been through, I have to rely on faith and continue to read the Word and pray. That was always a part of me,” said Jones who was taken to church by his parents, David and Dana Jones, while growing up in Baton Rouge. He is a member of Living Word Church and was baptized there in his early teens.
“I needed Jesus. He is everything, salvation. [And] after death we get to go to heaven!” he said.
While playing for the Hawks, Jones and teammate forward/center Bruno Fernando attended pre-game chapel services at home and on the road.
“We [would] call on each other and make sure we [didn’t] miss chapel,” said Fernando, who said he often saw Jones’ faith in action.
“He is a person who believes in God. He follows the rules of God, the testaments of the Bible,” Fernando said. “To see him live through that every single day, being able to see him make his devotions to the Lord, being able to be that person is a reminder for us in the locker room.”
Kevin Huerter, a guard for the Atlanta Hawks and former teammate, agreed that faith is “a big part” of Jones’ life.
Jones is encouraged by his mother, who sends him Bible verses daily.
During 49 games with the Warriors over three seasons from 2016 to 2019, Jones averaged 5.4 points and 2.3 rebounds.
Playing for the Hawks allowed him to be back in the South and closer to family. During the 2019–20 season Jones averaged 5.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in 55 games.
The NBA suspended its season in March 2020 after some players tested positive for COVID-19.
In November, Jones signed a contract with Phoenix. In 14 games with the Suns, he averaged 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per game.
In February, he was waived by the Suns and signed by the Lakers on a short-term renewable contract.
Jones’ athleticism is his strength.
“His presence at the rim being a shot-blocker, big-time lob [a type of pass] threat, he fits our system really well, being able to catch and finish a lot of lobs. He has gotten a lot better,” Huerter said.
As Jones absorbs coaching, he knows he can improve on different areas of his game.
Another of his strengths is bonding with teammates.
“I get along with people well. I’ve just really clicked,” said Jones, who tries to help others by community outreach activities.
Playing NBA basketball has provided an income, so he doesn’t have to depend on his parents any longer.
“Having a job that can really provide for you helps,” he said.
But faith continues to lead him.
“You try to stick to it. I try to keep pushing my faith and keep on going,” Jones said.