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2021-22 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #1 Kam Jones

Can the freshman from Tennessee make an immediate impact in the backcourt for the Golden Eagles?

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The 2021-22 college basketball season is right around the corner, so let’s get into the Marquette Golden Eagles basketball roster and take a look at what to expect from each player this season. We’ll be going through the players one by one: First MU’s freshmen in alphabetical order, then the two underclassmen transfers, then the two super-seniors on their extra year of eligibility, and then finally the three returning players, going in order of average minutes per game last season from lowest to highest.

We’re going to organize our thoughts about the upcoming season as it relates to each player into categories, as we always do:

  • Reasonable Expectations
  • Why You Should Get Excited
  • Potential Pitfalls

With that out of the way, it’s time to talk about the first of Marquette’s two freshmen who was recruited by the previous administration but elected to stick with the Golden Eagles anyway........

Kam Jones

Freshman - #1 - Guard - 6’4” - 185 pounds - Cordova, Tennessee

Because Jones is a freshman, this is an introduction to him to a certain extent. To that end, I want to point out that we’ve been referring to him as Kameron Jones ever since Marquette first offered him a scholarship back in May of 2020. That was his display name on his Twitter — and it still is now — and it was/is the name on his 247 Sports page. However, he is listed on the official Marquette roster as Kam, so we’re going with Kam from now on until something flags us and tells us otherwise.

anyway

As mentioned a second ago, Jones was offered a scholarship by MU back in May of 2020 and he made his commitment to the Golden Eagles at the end of June of that year. Because I know all of you can do math, I know you’ve already realized that this means that Jones was recruiting to Marquette by Steve Wojciechowski and that Jones signed to play for Wojciechowski as well. In fact, the connection came together because of the close personal ties between Jones’ high school coach at Evangelical Christian School in the Memphis area and now-former Marquette assistant Dwayne Killings. Regardless of the fact that Marquette made a coaching change to relieve Steve Wojciechowski of his duties, the fact remains that Jones and Killings were never going to be on the same sideline together. Killings had already accepted the Albany job by the time MU pulled the trigger on Wojciechowski.

And yet, even with both of the coaches that Jones would obviously have been most comfortable with leaving Marquette for different reasons, the young Tennessean elected to stick with his college choice in Milwaukee. In fact, there never seemed to be any sort of doubt about whether or not Jones was going to ask out of his letter of intent as the Shaka Smart era got underway. Whether that’s the salesmanship job done by Smart on his own behalf or Jones’ interest in what Marquette can offer him, or something somewhere in the middle, maybe we’ll never know.

What we do know about Jones, though, is that he is ranked #159 in the country by the 247 Sports Composite system, which makes him a three-star prospect. He’s the #39 shooting guard in the Class of 2021 as a result, and the #4 prospect out of the state of Tennessee. Internally, 247 likes him a bit more than that, ranking him #105 in the country and rating him as a four-star prospect. That moves Jones up to #27 amongst shooting guards and #2 in his home state. Rivals doesn’t give him a national ranking, but they have him as the #39 shooting guard in the class and a three-star prospect. ESPN seems to be more in line with the 247 internal, as they grade Jones as a four-star prospect. He comes in as the #24 point guard in the Class of 2021 and the #7 prospect in Tennessee in the World Wide Leader’s point of view. It is worth noting that Jones didn’t even have an ESPN page when he committed to Marquette 15 months ago, so to go from “who’s that?” to “four stars!” is a pretty sizeable jump.

Reasonable Expectations

The problem with trying to hammer down what we could qualify as a reasonable expectation for Kam Jones is that we don’t really know what Shaka Smart’s Marquette basketball looks like yet. We can take things from open practices and statements that the head coach has made in public, but at the end of the day, we’re kind of just guessing, especially for freshmen who haven’t stepped onto a collegiate court yet. Not only do we not know exactly how Smart wants to work and look, but we don’t really know how freshmen like Jones will adjust to playing hoops at the Big East level.

For Jones in specific, part of this gets figured out by Smart deciding whether or not Jones is a point guard for him. If he is, that’s good news for Jones’ opportunity for playing time. Marquette’s closest thing to an experienced returning point guard is Greg Elliott, and the closest thing to an experienced point guard on the roster is Darryl Morsell. I don’t think we can say that either one have really played point guard at all at the collegiate level, not for any extended length of time. As such, if Jones does fit that role, then there are lots of minutes for him to play. If Jones projects more as a shooting guard or an off-guard in Smart’s system... well, then maybe he’s spending most of his freshman year sitting around and spelling Morsell and Elliott when they need a breather.

And that could still be fairly often! Smart keeps talking about how his players need to be able to walk up right and breathe after playing for three minutes, so there’s a real chance that a bench role for Jones is still going to turn into a lot of minutes for him as a freshman.

For the time being? I think we have to just go with “gets his feet wet and is a positive contributor” for an expectation for Jones. After all, if we’re going by T-Rank’s projections, Jones doesn’t come in as one of the top 10 expected biggest contributors to the season right now.

Why You Should Get Excited

I want to share some quotes with you from back when Jones committed to play for Marquette.

“Kam has always been the underdog,” Evangelical Christian coach Willie Jenkins added. “He has always gone against the grain. His family decided that they weren’t going to listen to everybody’s opinion but listen to God and their hearts. When people were saying he shouldn’t go to a private school, they did. When people said he should play for a different AAU team, they stayed loyal to Team Thad. Trusting the process is the only thing he knows and that’s what makes him special.”

and this

Jones has good size and length for the position, physical upside, is a big time difficult shot maker and competes on defense.

aaaand this

“Kam is a natural scorer,” Jenkins said. “He can really score. But the beauty about Kam is his IQ of the game and his passing ability. He can really see the floor.

“I play him at the point, but the offense we run is kind of a college offense where multiple people can play the point. So whoever gets (the ball) comes out in the pick-and-roll and things like that. He would come to me and say ‘Hey, coach, what do you think about this right here?’ And I’d say ‘Hey, let’s do it.’ Really high IQ.”

High IQ, physical upside, competes on defense, used to a style of play where lots of guards get a chance to run the show, always been the underdog....

Am I crazy or does this all really fit everything that Shaka Smart has been saying — either literally out loud by by his recruiting scholarship offers — that he wants to see in Marquette basketball? If Jones is ready to go right out of the gate, then it seems like there’s a place for him to make an impact for the Golden Eagles. Things might not be perfect all the time, but that’s just the fact of being a freshman. Marquette isn’t deep at guard and if someone can step up and grab ahold of minutes, then that’s going to be very welcome both by the coaching staff and the fans in the stands. Maybe Jones can be that guy.

Potential Pitfalls

Go ahead and insert your standard issue “well, he’s a freshman” bit right here. If he’s not getting it right away or even as the season goes along, then he’s not, and Jones isn’t going to play. That’s the kind of thing that happens with freshmen sometimes.

In addition to that angle of it, the fact of the matter is that while there are minutes available for Jones to grab onto, Marquette does have a cluster of guards ready to grab them. There’s only 120 minutes of court time available between the three guard/wing positions on the floor, and it’s pretty reasonable to think that 30 of them are going to Darryl Morsell if he wants them. Greg Elliott is the next most experienced backcourt player and is likely to grab a whole ton of playing time, and Tyler Kolek is looking awfully close to max minutes as well. At some point, there just stops being time available for someone who can’t make a big impact on the floor especially if fellow freshmen Stevie Mitchell and Emarion Ellis get started on a hot streak.

That’s just the guards. It’s entirely possible that Shaka Smart sees a way for Olivier-Maxence Prosper or David Joplin to get minutes at the 3. If that’s the case, that’s just less possible playing time for Jones if he’s struggling in November.

All of this is possibly just the coating to a bigger potential problem: Kam Jones isn’t a Shaka Smart recruit. I don’t know how many of you remember Steve Wojciechowski’s first two seasons at Marquette. What I remember about them is Wojciechowski apparently convincing John Dawson to stick with Marquette before letting him play four minutes in the opener and never putting him on the court again until Dawson transferred at semester break. I also remember incoming freshman Sandy Cohen being convinced to stick with the Golden Eagles instead of heading elsewhere after Buzz Williams departed...... and Wojciechowski seemingly losing interest in playing him at all as his sophomore season progressed.

Now, I don’t think that Shaka Smart is as much of a dingbat as Steve Wojciechowski is, and feel free to look at Wojciechowski’s record in terms of players leaving Marquette early to get a measure of how much of a dingbat he is. I firmly believe that if this freshman season doesn’t work out especially well for Jones, it’s not going to be because Smart decides that he doesn’t care about the kid on the team that he didn’t recruit. But we all have to admit that there’s a chance that Jones doesn’t 100% fit into what Smart wants to do on the floor as a result of that recruiting disconnect, and it might lead to a not-so-great 2021-22 season as a result.