WASHINGTON -- The second day of Wizards training camp featured a focus on defense and rebounding, which means it was time for newcomer Jemerrio Jones to go to work. Despite being only 6-foot-5, he harrassed 6-foot-11 Thomas Bryant in the post. He trailed All-Star Bradley Beal baseline and forced a miss at the rim. He closed 15 feet from the other side of the basket to block a corner three.
When it comes down to a hustle play, no one is beating Jones. His life has been defined by scrapping his way to overcome the odds. There is no other way to make it when you grow up in the rough neighborhoods of Memphis, Tn., leave high school as a two-star recruit and go undrafted en route to the NBA.
Jones, 24, is a 6-5, 174-pound forward whose speciality is rebounding. Those types of players have not been common since the 1960s.
But he makes it work. Jones has one of the more unique statistical profiles you will find. When he played at New Mexico State in college, Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard's alma mater, he averaged 13.2 rebounds per game in his final season in 2017-18. That broke out to an absurd 26.6 rebounds per 100 possessions.
In 47 games in the G-League last year, he grabbed 13.8 boards per 36 minutes. He appeared in only six games for the L.A. Lakers as a rookie last season, but pulled in 8.2 rebounds in 23.8 minutes per game. He reached double-digits in his final three games and had 15 rebounds or more in two straight to close out the season.
No matter where Jones goes, he cleans the glass. And the Wizards happen to be in desperate need of rebounding, defense and hustle.
"I go hard in the paint," Jones told NBC Sports Washington with his heavy southern drawl. "[Fans] are going to like the hustle in me. You gotta pay people to play hard now, but it's in me."
Laziness is a foreign concept for Jones. He has been a grinder for as long as he can remember. He was always the skinny kid in youth basketball and had to fight his way for rebounds on the steaming blacktops of Memphis. Now, in Wizards training camp, he sprints all over the court in scrimmages with his eyebrow-length hair flopping up and down.
In his early teenage years, Jones had the reverse story of guys like Anthony Davis, who were point guards that grew unexpectedly. Jones grew early, then stopped. So, even as he ascended through the basketball world, he kept a big-man mindset despite having the size of a guard. And he had to adapt along the way to maintain his rebounding edge.
Rebounding, as Jones describes, is not about muscle. It's about wanting it more and knowing how to read the ball off the rim. He doesn't have the frame to box out NBA big men, so he just goes around them.
"I really don't box out, though. I really just finesse. Somebody's going to forget about me because I cut a lot. I don't sit in one spot. So, they are most likely going to forget to box me out. That opens it up a lot for me, really," he said.
While most kids were looking up to Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, he was studying the NBA's grittiest players.
"I want to be like Dennis Rodman, but better," he said of rebounding.
Of defense, he added: "I like to defend. It's in me to defend. I'm like a Tony Allen guy on defense. But I'm trying to be better than him."
Those are lofty goals, but Jones is not the type of person to bet against. He made it out of Memphis as a teenager when many people aren't as fortunate. He left to attend a prep school in Baton Rouge, La., but not for basketball. He had to play on the AAU circuit because his school "didn't even have a basketball team." Before starring at New Mexico State, he spent two seasons at Hill Junior College in Texas.
Jones rarely even goes back to Memphis. That made for a surprising reunion when he showed up at Wizards training camp. Wizards guard Chris Chiozza was on his AAU team back in the day before he left for Baton Rouge. And Jones didn't even know Chiozza was back on the Wizards this season after his stint with the Rockets.
"I didn't see him from when I left in Memphis until now," Jones said. "It was out of the blue."
Chiozza says he has known Jones since they were in the eighth grade. They went to rival schools but crossed paths in the AAU circuit.
"He's always been like that," Chiozza said. "He's like a hustle man."
Jones is already fitting in well with his Wizards teammates. It helps he came over in a multi-player trade from the Lakers. He and Isaac Bonga are close and have been touring the city together. They plan to go see the White House for the first time soon.
Jones loves to play Fortnite and describes himself as "goofy." But just like his game on the court, it's easy to see how his personality has no chill. He says he's already been messing with John Wall by joking around and slapbloxing with him.
"He's going to talk to you like he's known you his whole life. It catches people off-guard," Chiozza said. "John will be in the middle of a workout and Jemerrio will walk in and start trash-talking him. John will drop the weights and start beating him up. But he accepts the beating. He likes it. He'll talk a lot of trash and then he'll get beat up and come back in 30 seconds to get some more."
Jones doesn't hesitate in anything he does. That could be just what it takes to stand out and earn some minutes for the Wizards.
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