There’s 588 names listed in the 247 Sports Composite rankings for top basketball recruits in 2017.
DeVante’ Jones’s name is nowhere to be found.
Jones, who hails from New Orleans, was a steady force in high school averaging 17 points, five rebounds, 6.5 assists and three steals his senior year at St. Augustine. The college offers, though, didn’t come.
Louisiana is far from a fertile recruiting ground for basketball. Among that 2017 recruiting class, just two players from the state cracked the top 300 in the rankings and only seven are listed.
So, hoping to improve his recruiting opportunities, he moved to Massachusetts where he played a year at Notre Dame Prep. There, his scoring average jumped to 25 points per game, but while 588 other players found offers, Jones was mostly met with silence.
His recruiting profile was completely blank. He didn’t have a star rating. He didn’t have a crystal ball prediction. There was no information about official visits or offers.
Now, Jones is coming to Michigan to take on a critical role with the team, as the Wolverines are lacking in guard depth. With the departure of starting point guard Mike Smith, it will be on Jones to fill in that gap offensively, and more importantly, guard the other team’s best ball handler — a role that Smith could rarely occupy. Jones, who boasts a 6-foot-6 wingspan and whose three steals per game were third best in the country last year, believes he’s up to the task.
So five years later, how did Jones — a self-proclaimed “unathletic player” — go from a complete unknown to someone Michigan believes is a catalyst for a championship season?
It started with a willingness to outwork everyone in his way.
There may not have been much information on Jones, but the guard will happily give you the scouting report himself, and he won’t hide the flaws:
“Me being a kid (who was) very overlooked just because I’m 6-foot-1, not very athletic, that’s why (my height is) a knock on my game,” Jones said. “A lot of people feel like I can’t do a lot of things that other guys with crazy athleticism, crazy height can do.”
One person who did feel Jones could do all those things was Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis, who had a front row seat to Jones’s development. When asked to speak about Jones, Ellis gushed about his former player.
“He’s a guy that’s going to bring it every day,” Ellis told The Daily. “He really doesn’t have a weakness to his game. There are only three things you do with a basketball — dribble, pass and shoot — and he can do all three. He defends hard; he’s a tough kid; fun to coach; brings it every day.”
But when pushed to expand on what makes him so fun to coach, Ellis doesn’t budge:
“He brings it every day.”
Maybe it really is that simple.
Jones is an all-around player, and despite his shorter stature, his physicality and ability to disrupt passing lanes help him thrive among his taller peers.
At Coastal, he redshirted his freshman year due to academic issues, but once he had a chance to play, he did not waste the opportunity. Jones went on to be a three-year starter with the Chanticleers — culminating in a Sun Belt Player of the Year award last season.
His commitment to always putting in the extra work allowed him to reach new heights.
“The funny thing about DeVante’ is he doesn’t believe in off days,” former Coastal Carolina assistant coach Patrice Days said. “There were times when we had to tell him to get out of the gym. Whatever you asked him to do, he’s done it.”
Jones is just wired to go the extra mile. Other players may be flashier or possess more raw skills, but when it comes to effort, those who have worked with him insist there’s no one quite like Jones. He lifted weights to become more of a hard-nosed defender and constantly worked on his jump shot to expand his range. It takes a certain mindset to turn yourself into a top college basketball player — especially without the expectations coming in — but Jones has it.
As he transitions to Michigan, Jones is still attacking practice with the same ferocity he had when he was an under-recruited player out of high school. Much will be made about Jones’s fit as a smaller guard in a bruising Big Ten conference that features several elite big men. But size has never prevented Jones from being whatever type of player he wants to be.
“I feel like my body size doesn’t really affect me,” Jones said. “I feel like I use my body very well. I’ve had comparisons to Fred Van Fleet, so I just try to implement his game using my floater, being crafty. But at the end of the day, I can’t always get to the rim or shoot layups so that’s why I’m working on my three ball. It’s just understanding the game so a lot of studying and watching a lot of film. It’s not really as hard as people think.”
That workhorse mentality is second nature to Jones, and it comes through in his words. Adding a 3-point shot. Making time for extra film sessions. He’ll shrug it off as part of the job. His teammates, though, have taken note of his relentless effort.
“His mentality is that no matter how tall you are, how big, how strong, how fast, you’re not going to outwork him,” Coastal Carolina forward Isaac Hippolyte, who played with Jones the last three seasons, said. “This has been his mentality since I’ve met him and since I became a teammate with him at Coastal. He’s never going to take no for an answer. He’s never going to leave the court without coming out victorious.”
Every year with the Chanticleers he was ready to take on whatever was thrown at him, even as the target on his back grew. Jones’s stat line improved each year, going from 13 points, 3.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds as a sophomore to 17.4 points, 5.7 assists and 5.8 rebounds as a junior. Last season, Jones’s scoring average was again on the uptick at 19.3 but the rest of his numbers were more perplexing.
Jones’s assists dropped to just 2.7 per game, while his rebounding skyrocketed to an average of 7.2 — good enough for eighth-best in the entire Sun Belt Conference.
Jones assessed the roster and figured out what he could do to best help the team. If Coastal needed more help rebounding, then he was going to go up and get some damn rebounds. That was the attitude instilled in him.
“His sophomore year, he was second in the Sun Belt in assists, so he already proved that,” Days said. “So, I told him he had to prove to people that ‘you were a winner’ so he did whatever we needed him to do. His role changed, and he adapted to it.”
Making those adaptions will again be crucial for Jones this year with the Wolverines.
At Big Ten Media Day, fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks and sophomore center Hunter Dickinson both expressed their confidence in Jones, saying he could win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. After just a few practices with the team, Brooks is already seeing the same traits in Jones that those at Coastal Carolina witnessed over four years.
“When we play open gym and, even in practice, he’s everywhere,” Brooks said. “He brings it every single day so it’s just something that you can appreciate.”
The chip on Jones’s shoulder is more of a chunk at this point.
He has never fit the mold of a top prospect, but he’s worked tirelessly to earn his spot in the college basketball ranks. In 2017, he wasn’t even a blip on the recruiting radar. In 2021, he was choosing between Michigan, Texas and other top schools for the next step in his collegiate career.
This year, he wants to prove that he should’ve had the attention of those programs all along.
No recruiting profile can illustrate the player Jones turned out to be. He did it through hard work and never listening to the scouting report imparted on him.
“He came in as a three star,” Ellis said. “He’s leaving as a five star.”