Had the original plan held up, Isiah Jones would be enrolled at Kansas State right now, getting ready for his freshman season in Division I basketball.
Instead, Jones is playing his last season of high school ball at a fifth-year prep school in the Houston area, and the recruiting process isn't quite over. While playing for Humble (Texas) Christian Life Academy at a tournament in Dallas in mid-October, combo guard Jones took an unofficial visit to North Texas to get a look around.
UNT has five players committed for its 2011 recruiting class, and multi-skilled Jones would fit well with the backcourt collection already assembled.
Jones said he's planning official visits to Kansas State, Colorado, Oregon and St. John's, but his current offers include UNT, Texas-El Paso, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Lafayette, Illinois State, Indiana State and other mid-major programs.
"I don't ever big-time anybody," he said. "If a mid-major seems like right thing, I'm there. I want to make an impact, come in and play and make a program better, whoever it is."
In 2009, Jones left Class A Mounds Meridian near Carbondale, Ill., after his junior season to transfer to a school on Chicago's south side. He was a Kansas State commit at the time and needed academic help, and prep school seemed a better option. Kansas State helped Jones make initial contact with Humble Christian Life, where he enrolled before the 2009-2010 school year.
Eventually, Jones needed a fifth year to qualify. He took the ACT test on Oct. 23 and is confident he did well. As for when he'll commit or sign, that's up in the air, but he said he likes UNT as much as anyone he's seen.
"Probably April," Jones said of his timetable. "I was going to go early, but I think more big schools will try to get in touch with me. Everybody knows I'm going to qualify now. I don't know if I'll go early or late, but I don't want to make the wrong decision."
That UNT plans to sign Dallas Kimball forward Jordan Williams this month is appealing, Jones said. Guards Trey Norris of South Grand Prairie (Texas), Chris Jones of Garland (Texas) Lakeview Centennial and Brandan Walton of Casper (Wyo.) College also expect to join the UNT stable. Jones' qualifying status is also pending an ACT test score. UNT also plans to sign Eastland (Texas) forward/center Forrest Robinson.
"I think that's a nice school," Jones said of UNT. "It's bigger than what I thought. I know they got a commit from Williams, and that's a big plus. I really like them, and the coaching staff seems cool. [Assistant coach] Shawn Forrest keeps it real. I like coaches who tell me what they like and what they expect. I don't want anybody to sugar-coat stuff. He's up front all the time."
If UNT can add Jones, it would add a big (almost 6-foot-4) guard who can play the point, the two or move up in a small-ball lineup. Last season, Jones averaged 18.7 points, seven assists and nearly four rebounds for Christian Life. As a junior, he averaged 17.8 points and made 92 3-pointers. He averaged 12.0 and 12.5 points, respectively, in his two seasons at Mounds Meridian and made 53 3-pointers as a freshman. His last year below the varsity level was middle school.
Coached by Carlos Wilson, Christian Life is one of the nation's latest powerhouse fifth-year prep programs. Jones said he has teammates who will sign with Texas Tech, Detroit, Lamar, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Florida International and Rutgers, and those are the ones he can remember.
On Nov. 15, Christian Life as a road game against Dallas God's Academy in an anticipated matchup of prep-school programs that traverse the country often. Christian Life, which is not a member of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, has played tournaments in Alaska, California, Rhode Island, Indiana, Las Vegas, Washington D.C., Mississippi, to name a few destinations, Jones said.
"I've tried to learn to be a better leader, how to run a team," he said of his time at CLA. "I want to show people I can be an all-around leader with all-around ability that can tell guys where to go. I'm not a guy who wants [the ball] all the time, but if it comes to me and I'm open, I'll take the shot. I just want to win."
Despite K-State's hand in getting him to CLA, Jones didn't sound overly optimistic that the Wildcats still want to sign him.
"It's open," he said. "They just got two more guards. I'm open."
Of the recruiting process, he said, "Once a school calls you once or twice, and they stop calling, you know they're not for real."
Jones said he's getting two calls a week from UNT's Forrest, and that the coach sounds "100-percent serious about what he's saying."
"He's not promising me time," Jones said. "I don't want schools to promise that. If I don't have to work for it, that's not a good place. If it's too easy, then the players around you aren't making you better. If I work for it, they'll put the ball in my hands and let me make my own decisions."
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