Cameron Jones makes a U-turn and so does NAU hoops

How big was the decision this week by NAU’s Cameron Jones to withdraw from the NBA draft?  “Huge” comes to mind, but that would be an understatement.

It was probably the difference between the Lumberjacks being a contender versus a pretender next season.

The Jacks are coming off a disappointing 14-14 season, including a loss in the quarterfinals of the Big Sky Tournament.  But they were poised for a run next year because they will return 12 players overall, including the top five scorers.

But then Jones declared for the draft two days before the April 25 deadline.  Fortunately, he didn’t hire an agent, so he had the option of changing his mind.

Which he did on Wednesday, just three days before the withdrawal deadline.

OK, so he admitted from the get-go that the only reason he was entering his name was to find out what his options were.  He wanted to get his name out there so the pro scouts would give him a look next year.

But you can never be sure what’s running through a young man’s mind.  It had to give NAU head coach, Mike Adras, a few sleepless nights while waiting for his star to pluck his name back out of the hat.

He can finally exhale.

Jones, a 6’4″ forward, finished the season with 541 points, the third-best single-season total in NAU history, and averaged 19.3 points.  He was the only player in the Big Sky Conference to rank among the top 16 in points, rebounds, assists, and field-goal percentage.

The fact that he was just one of the top five scorers this season is somewhat misleading.  He was pretty much THE point-producer.  Only two other players averaged in double figures – just barely.  Eric Platte averaged 11.6 and Shane Johannsen, a local product from Valley Christian HS, averaged 10.8.

Johannsen started just 14 games for the Jacks and Platte came off the bench to participate in 11 games.

They would have to be a lot more productive next season as seniors, particularly if they didn’t have Jones in the line-up.

And the one player they will lose to graduation was the team spark plug.  Nick Larson was the steady hand on the floor and a primary reason the Jacks made it to the playoffs.  He averaged just seven points a game, but ranks sixth in the Big Sky in rebounding and second overall in defensive rebounds in conference play.  But he stepped up his scoring when needed, posting double figures in five games, including a 20-point performance against Northern Colorado.

But Adras has already planned for his departure.  He expects a sophomore transfer from Liberty University to step into the void left by Larson.  The 6’8″ forward, originally from Tucson, had to sit out last season and hasn’t been in a game situation since March of 2009.  But he’s been involved in practices with his new team, and Adras thinks he will be prepared to step in right away because he’s already used to the system.

But putting an improved team on the floor next year is just the first goal for next season.

Adras has to figure out what to do about Montana.  The Jacks lost to them three times last year, including a 21-point loss in the conference tournament opener.

Jones had 21 points in that game.  That’s a good indication that the Jacks will have to provide a much better supporting cast next season.

But his return will still be huge.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)