Dunkin' Rebel: Former UNLV player continues elevating his game in the NBA

Posted Thursday, 13 February 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

MIAMI—No matter what Derrick Jones Jr. comes up with in his second career NBA Dunk Contest February 15 in Chicago, he doesn’t foresee it making his list of all-time favorite slams. The Miami Heat swingman says most all his favorite dunks have been concentrated during one specific time and place—from mid-2015 to early 2016 at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center—when he would mess around after practice with his Runnin’ Rebels teammates. “It was just when I had my young legs,” the 22-year-old Jones says with a grin after a practice at the Heat’s American Airlines Arena. “It was when I was really jumping.” If pressed to pick one dunk, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Jones might go with the time he leapt from just inside the free-throw line, laced the ball between his legs and finished ferociously at the rim with one hand. He remembers teammates—including fellow future NBA players Stephen Zimmerman and Patrick McCaw—going crazy in celebration. Jones spent a relatively short time in Las Vegas, not even playing one whole season for the Rebels after an ACT testing service canceled his score and left him ineligible for the final three games of the year. It was tumultuous in other ways, too, with coach Dave Rice getting fired midseason, but Jones says he still has overwhelmingly positive memories of his time in Las Vegas. “I loved every moment I was at the school,” Jones says. “It was just the relationships I built with the guys. The team we had that year was special. We had a couple bumps and bruises in the middle of our road, but I miss that team. We had a whole lot of characters on that team.” Jones sees UNLV as the foundation for his professional success, which appears to have only begun. He says he’s not as good a dunker now as he used to be, but he’s fine with that because he’s improved most every other aspect of his game. Jones is in the midst a breakout year in his third season with the Heat, averaging nine points and four rebounds per game and excelling in the toughest defensive assignments for a team that looks like an upstart championship contender. Jones’ final contracted year with the Heat was supposed to determine whether the franchise saw him as a long-term fit. Now, that’s not even a question, with speculation instead centered on whether Miami can afford to retain him. Jones has played himself beyond the $1.5 million salary he’s earning this season, improving both his defense and his shooting. Jones knocked down a career-high three 3-pointers during the Heat’s final home game before the All-Star break, a blowout win over the 76ers. He did it again two nights later en route to a career-high 25 points in a road loss to the LA Clippers. “This year has been everything,” Jones says. “It’s not only my contract year, but this is the year I want to prove I belong. I want to be here. I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to have a long career in Miami.” Recent signs indicate that the Heat might be thinking the same thing. Miami was active during the trade deadline—landing former NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and engaging in talks to acquire veteran Danilo Gallinari—but reports surfaced that Heat management wasn’t going to include Jones in a deal. He’s gone from undrafted to untouchable in four years, a rarity in the NBA. “He’s becoming increasingly more important for us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “His teammates know that; his coaches know that. He just has to keep on working.” Jones sees that imperative as fair, citing what’s widely known in NBA circles as “Heat culture.” Miami is known for its highly demanding workloads—and a zero-tolerance policy for those who fall short of fulfilling them. Jones says that stringency was exactly what he needed after drifting between the NBA and developmental league during his first two pro seasons with the Phoenix Suns. “In Phoenix, I was able to be a kid, to use that kid card a lot,” Jones says. “Here, there’s none of that, [and] I love it. They hold me to a higher standard. We all want to be great, and we’re going to hold each other accountable until we all become great. Whenever we see someone slipping up, we correct it. We let them know what they should be doing [and] what they shouldn’t be doing. Just to have teammates and people like that in your corner caring about you, that makes me play harder.” If Jones’ time in Phoenix is remembered for anything, it’s his participation in the 2017 Dunk Contest in New Orleans. He primarily used variations of dunks he perfected at UNLV, including a windmill after catching the ball off the side of the backboard. There’s no telling what Jones will do in the 2020 Dunk Contest, which many fans consider the highlight of All-Star weekend. He says it will be a spur-of-the-moment thing. Still, he has some unfinished business to take care of. He made the finals three years ago but wound up the runner-up, to Indiana’s Glenn Robinson III. “I always told my dad, once I started dunking I was going to win a Dunk Contest in the NBA,” he says. This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

Other articles published by Las Vegas Sun

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

Since the first person tested positive for the coronavirus in Nevada, the pathogen has swept Southern Nevada with alarming speed — from one to two cases, then a few dozen and then a couple hundred. By the time you read this, the number will certainly...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

Awaiting a COVID-19 test result, Shira has been isolated in her Henderson home since Sunday. Unable to spend time with her family until she receives the results of her test in a few days, she did her best to celebrate her daughter’s birthday on Monday, ...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

It was a simple, yet powerful message from a high school student-athlete: “You can’t win a game by yourself,” the Spring Valley High flag football player said. One by one, students in Billy Hemberger’s sports leadership course at Spring Valley...

There’s no time to waste Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

We have heard over and over again that the stock market hates uncertainty. Humans likewise hate uncertainty. However, today, both our lives and our economy are more uncertain than ever. If this is “war,” then let’s spend as if it were. This is no...

President just passes the buck Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

I am amazed at how often President Donald Trump, in the public arena, blames others as part of his explanation of whatever topic he has on his mind. Recently, the topic has been mostly the coronavirus pandemic. If Trump gets any pushback from reporters,...

Utility workers being responsible Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

I’m a lineman for NV Energy. I’m not a spokesperson, just an average guy, just doing my part to keep the power on. I want to let the public know that NVEnergy has taken a proactive approach to provide reliable of service during the pandemic. My union ...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

Zach Whitecloud signed a two-year extension with the Golden Knights on Sunday, securing the 23-year-old defenseman’s future with the team through the summer of 2022. Even when his contract expires, however, Whitecloud likely isn’t going anywhere....

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County health officials backtracked Tuesday on their announcement that a child died from coronavirus, saying it’s possible the death was caused by something else. During their daily briefing, the county health department...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

YPSILANTI, Mich. — Washtenaw Golf Club, one of the oldest courses in Michigan, typically only has to worry about the weather in March. Now there is a far more serious issue to contemplate: the new coronavirus. "This is the one thing we didn't think...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

Trevor May has been preparing for this. Not precisely for a global pandemic that would bring sports — and so much else — to an unprecedented standstill. Even hours and hours of dystopian video games couldn't help foresee that. But a break in the...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

WASHINGTON — The State Department has advised against all international travel because of the coronavirus, but that didn't stop Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from flying to Afghanistan this week. Gyms across the nation's capital are shuttered, but...

South Korea investigates chatroom sex abuse allegations Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean prosecutors on Wednesday began reviewing whether to formally charge a man arrested last week on allegations that he operated secret chatrooms where he posted sexually abusive videos of blackmailed women in return for...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

NEW DELHI — The world's largest democracy went under the world's biggest lockdown Wednesday, with India's 1.3 billion people ordered to stay home in a bid to stop the coronavirus pandemic from spreading and overwhelming its fragile health care system...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

For Anna, a 33-year-old American woman stranded in a Peruvian hotel room and out of life-saving medication to treat her auto-immune disease, the clock is ticking. After Peru ordered its borders closed March 15 in an effort to hinder the spread of the new ...

Posted Wednesday, 25 March 2020 ‐ Las Vegas Sun

STORRS, Conn. — All but one of Anna Makurat's teammates headed home after the NCAA canceled this year's postseason basketball tournament and the school suspended classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For the 19-year-old UConn freshman from Poland, the...