Kai Jones drafted 19th overall

It was a dream come true for Bahamian center/forward Kai Jones last night when he was drafted with the 19th pick in the 2021 National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. He was drafted by the New York Knicks but was traded to the Charlotte Hornets for a future first-round pick.

“Man, I’m super excited,” Jones said. “It’s a huge blessing. Many people from The Bahamas don’t get to be in this position, so I’m really excited, man. I’m super blessed.”

Jones was clad in a baby pink suit with the inner lining of his jacket having a Bahamian flair with flamingos, the national bird of The Bahamas. He wore a silky white shirt and on his feet were a pair of straw shoes. He was surrounded by his family for his big night in the green room. After his name was called by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, he hugged his mother, Kasprintina Ellis and father, Deyvon Jones, before going to up to the podium to shake Silver’s hand.

The former track and field athlete did not play organized basketball until he was 15 years old. Surrounded by his mother and father after being drafted, he was interviewed by ESPN’s Malika Andrews about his rise in the sport.

“This rapid rise goes to God and my work ethic,” Jones said. Coming into the game I knew that I was behind in some aspects so I just worked twice as hard as everybody that I knew. I would get up before school and go at 5 a.m. and lift at 6 a.m. I would go to school, practice, then play pick up ball after. It was a lot of hours, faith and belief in myself.”

He added, “I came from a small country where a lot of kids do not get to do this. Being able to play basketball in the USA in nice facilities is a blessing. So being able to play in the NBA, I feel I have to make the most out of it because they will live it through me.”

He is now the third Bahamian to be drafted in the NBA since 2016 and will be the third active Bahamian in the league. Chavano “Buddy” Hield was drafted sixth overall in the 2016 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Pelicans and DeAndre Ayton was drafted by the Phoenix Suns as the number one pick in 2018. It is an impressive feat for a small country to have three first round picks within five years.

When the trade is processed, he will be playing for the Hornets that features reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, LaMelo Ball. Jones is excited to be there with him and chimed in on who he would like to play against.

“Playing with LaMelo Ball is going to be super dope. He can pass the ball, he’s a good point guard, he can score, he can pass. Seems like a good guy to be around. And I’m most excited to play against Kevin Durant, seeing that he went to the University of Texas Longhorns, he’s a forward and can really score. I’d like to see what my defense looks like against him,” Jones said.

He will look to bring his energy and versatility to the Hornets.

Jones got on the basketball radar after he was an All-Star in the Basketball Without Borders camp that was held here in New Providence in 2017. A year later he was at the NBA Global Camp in Treviso, Italy.

The big man spent two seasons at Texas before declaring for this year’s NBA Draft. Before playing for the Longhorns he was in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire playing for Brewster Academy. During the 2017-2018 season he played for Orlando Christian Preparatory in Orlando, Florida.

Standing at 6’11” and weighing 225 pounds, Jones describes his game as one that can impact the sport inside and outside. Like most players, Jones said he patterned his game against an NBA player or two, most specifically, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The 20-year-old has shown that he can be efficient from the field. In his sophomore year, his final season at Texas, he shot 58 percent from the field including shooting 38.2 percent from deep. Jones made his first 14 field goal attempts last season. He averaged 8.8 points per game, 4.8 rebounds and .92 blocks in 22.8 minutes per game in 26 games played. He spoke about playing there.

“It’s a blessing,” Jones said. “Texas is a first-class school. We work really hard there. Coach has held us bigs to a standard every time we come through, so it’s a huge blessing. I know some of the guys who are already in the NBA. I have a relationship with them. It’s going to be huge for me moving forward, just being able to talk to them about their experiences, learn from them and compete against them, too.”

The Bahamian signed with Klutch Sports Group, which is one of the top sports agencies and is run by Rich Paul. It represents the likes of Los Angeles duo LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Anthony Edwards and the Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young.

Next up for Jones will be the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League 2021 that begins on August 8.

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Simba French

Simba joined The Nassau Guardian in 2012 as a technical producer for Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. He joined the Editorial Department as a sports reporter in 2018. Simba has covered a wide range of sports stories, including the 2018 CARIFTA in Nassau, Bahamas. Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism

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