Story by Blake Sandlin, Staff writer
As the Murray State’s men’s basketball team prepares for its final home game of the season Saturday night, a lot of the focus will be on the seniors, who will suit up for their final time in the CFSB Center. For Bryce Jones, the path to Division I basketball was more difficult than most.
Jones grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and attended high school at Boys and Girls High School. Because of his lack of size, Jones rarely saw the floor. He played junior varsity his first two years of high school and saw limited minutes his junior year. Despite this, Jones said he kept his head high.
“I was very small; I weighed about 130 pounds probably soaking wet playing varsity basketball,” Jones said. “I didn’t have an opportunity right away. I played behind three other guards, there were three other guards ahead of me, and I was the last one. I didn’t let that defeat me, though. I always knew that I could be out there one day.”
After his junior season, Jones faced more adversity. Jones expected to receive a starting position his senior year, but he was surprised when he was forced to come off the bench as the sixth man. This was a major roadblock for Jones, but he chose to put his opinions aside for the good of the team.
“I didn’t start my senior year; I thought I was going to be starting my senior year, but I didn’t get a chance to start,” Jones said. “I got overlooked once again, but I didn’t let it defeat me. They were playing mind games on me throughout that whole year, but I still stayed to the course because at the end of the day, I just wanted to win.”
In Boys and Girls High School’s 2011–2012 season, point guard Tyliek Kimbrough suffered an injury early on, and Jones was given the chance to start for the first time. Jones stepped up for his team, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the starting lineup.
“When he got hurt like the third game in, I started right away and recorded my first triple-double ever in my career,” Jones said. “My first game I ever started I recorded a triple-double, and I was one steal away from a quadruple-double. The next five games I was averaging around 24 and 7 when I started. Then he came back healthy, and I got sat right back down.”
As the days in Jones’ high school career began to dwindle, so did his chances of getting recruited at the Division I level — a dream he had always had. However, just like he had all of his life, he persevered. Jones played AAU basketball during the summer after his senior year and eventually found a home in 2012 at Believe Prep Academy out of Rock Hill, South Carolina.
After a year of playing there, Jones said he wasn’t receiving any Division I offers, but he was receiving a lot of attention at the junior college level. Although Jones was hesitant to lower his standards, Believe Prep Academy Associate Head Coach Kevin Jackson told Jones he could use it as a way to get noticed by bigger Division I programs.
“Bryce thought it was just the ultimate disrespect to go to junior college,” Jackson said. “I explained it to Bryce that I was a former junior college coach for many years. I told him junior college is very tough. It’s not for little boys, and it’s not for babies. He had no idea how powerful it was. It was another branch to get to the next level.”
Jones decided to take his talents to Jones County Junior College, a small school located in Ellisville, Mississippi. With Jones at the helm, the team claimed the 2014 NJCAA Division I National Championship against Indian Hills Community College, the number one ranked junior college in the nation. The national championship gave Jones some much needed publicity on his journey to playing Division I basketball.
“A JUCO team from Mississippi has never won a national championship, and I honestly don’t think that’s ever going to happen again,” Jones said. “But we still fought through, and we won it. That was a big accomplishment for me, and it opened up a lot of doors for my basketball career.”
Jackson’s words started to come to life as Jones began to see schools that hadn’t previously given him any interest come knocking. One of those, of course, was Murray State. After Racer guard Cameron Payne decided to leave for the NBA, Jones saw a void that needed to be filled.
“When [Payne] decided to leave, I thought it was a no-brainer to come here,” he said. “You know, it’s a good school for point guards; they win here a lot. So I came from winning, so I wanted to keep my legacy going by winning.”
While many players face obstacles on their paths to success, most lack perseverance. That perseverance, Jackson says, is what will have him sharing Jones’ story for years to come.
“[Bryce] has been a great, feel-good story man,” Jackson said. “Every kid that has gone through our program, I tell them about Bryce Jones. He went through a lot of ups and downs, a lot of trials and tribulations, but we were able to get him right.”
Jones will soon be wrapping up his collegiate career as a Racer, and while he is unsure of what his future holds, one thing Racer Nation can be sure of is that he’s going to give it his all.
“I’m just a kid that’s never going to give up, no matter where I am,” Jones said. “Just like after this, after I leave here, I don’t know if I’ll make it to the NBA one day, but that’s my goal. If I go overseas, it ain’t nothing. Whatever’s going to be thrown at me, I’m going to be ready for it. That’s just how I’m built.”