Damian Jones doesn't expect to stay in Nashville past 2016. That's a sad headline for Vanderbilt fans - but not an unexpected one.
The 7'0", 245-pound center has been rocketing up mock draft boards thanks to his interior play for the Commodores, and a big junior season will likely make Jones the first Vandy basketball star to ever be selected in the NBA Draft lottery. If all goes as planned, the 2015-16 season will be his launching pad into the big leagues. Here's what he told the Tennessean's Adam Sparks on Wednesday:
This is my last go-around, but all that means is that I want to give it all I’ve got. I want to push this team and get to that next step while I’m here.
- Vanderbilt center Damian Jones
Commodore head coach Kevin Stallings gave his star big man's decision his full support:
Unless something happens that we’re not hoping for and not anticipating, this will be Damian’s last year here. If he is going to get picked anywhere near where they are projecting him to be picked, he’ll leave after this season.
- Vanderbilt Head Coach Kevin Stallings
Jones had been a candidate to leave Vanderbilt early since bursting on to the NCAA scene as a freshman. He averaged 11.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game as a true freshman to place himself in the first round of several mock drafts. He cemented that status with last year's breakout campaign, where he helped lead the Commodores to a 21-win season while improving his game across the board. With a roster full of three-point shooters, his offensive numbers may soar even higher now that teams will be extra wary of double-teaming him in the post.
This news broke just hours before Jones was named to the All-SEC First Team. The junior center is expected to lead the Commodores to a second-place finish in conference play. Wade Baldwin IV, a sophomore who has been lauded by publications like Athlon Sports and Lindy's this preseason, failed to earn all-conference honors:
While losing Jones next spring will hurt, his departure will also open up a scholarship that the Commodores will need to haul in one of their remaining four-star targets. Kevin Stallings has been working hard to lure players like Braxton Blackwell and Javin Montgomery-DeLaurier (currently a Duke commit) to a recruiting class that already features rising prospects like Payton Willis and Clevon Brown. Jones's early departure, paired with the graduations of Carter Josephs and Josh Henderson, will give the team room for one more recruit this spring.
Jones's decision may be a bit premature, but it puts a clear goal in front of this team's 2015-16 season. This will be their last chance to make a postseason splash with their dominant shot-absorbing, double-team-commanding center locking down the paint. That puts a lot of pressure on the Vandy big man - and his teammates as well. 2016 now has a few extra storylines to follow, and whether that's Jones's status when it comes to mock drafts, this team's ability to climb up the top 25 to build NCAA Tournament momentum, or D'Jery Baptiste's progress as the team's heir apparent up front, there will be no lack of hardwood excitement in Nashville this winter.