An Open Letter to Dominique Jones

Nique,

What up kid? I can call you kid because I'm 33, and have been watching USF basketball since before you entered grade school. And I can say honestly and without equivocation that you are the best player I've ever seen wear that uniform. You single-handedly made me excited about watching USF basketball again. And after 19 seasons with no NCAA's and more heartbreak than I can list here, that is no small feat. No matter what you decide, thank you for being an outstanding representative of my alma mater. If every player that wears that uniform shows the heart, unselfishness, and character you have as a Bull, our program has nowhere to go but through the roof.

It's not just your pure talent that makes you so special; it's how you mix in your game with that of your teammates. You're not just a scorer, you're an all-around basketball player. If we need an isolation bucket to stop a run, everyone knows to get the ball to #20. But if the D is running at you at every opportunity, you find a way to make your teammates better. You take what they give you, and the stat sheet be damned. Anyone that's paying attention knows the 46 at Providence or the 140 in four games was all within the confines of the offense. You've never been afraid to make the extra pass, set a pick (and not just on a screen-the-screener), jump in a passing lane, give up your body, or fight on the glass. Your spacing always seems to be textbook perfect. You deflect more balls than anyone I've ever seen because you anticipate so well. I've said over and over again... you have a Mensa Basketball I.Q. Your fundamentals, knowledge, and feel for the game are so solid, you could have played for Coach Dale at Hickory High. So many people with your talent can't harness it, but you have the drive, determination, and brains to get the most out of the gift you've been given. For hoops junkies like me, you're an absolute joy to watch play the game, because you play the way I hope that I would if I had your talent.

But you've still got flaws. No one is perfect, and yours are still pretty significant. You've still got things you need to develop to be a successful pro that's in the League for years and years. And that's why you should stay for your senior season.

Right now you're getting to the rim pretty easily because your first step is quick enough to get by most defenders, and you're strong enough that even when you force it up, you can either make the shot, or get hacked because guys at this level can't keep up with you. Even when they play a half-step off you, you can still get around them and to your favored area... which seems to be any place within 6-8 feet of the rim.

It's clear you're a student of basketball. Watch some tapes. See Matt Barnes, Russell Westbrook, Shane Battier, Tayshaun Prince, and see how they guard guys like you. You're good... but these guys can stop you right now with the skills you currently have. Why? Because they don't have to respect your jump shot. Quite frankly, you're not a good enough shooter for them to have to face guard you. Plus they're long enough where even if they're a half-step off you, they'll still get a hand up when you step back and fire. And no team in the League is putting you out there to stretch the floor. You were 52-167 from three this year, that's 31.1%. And that's from 20'9, and with teams often daring you to shoot. At the next level, they're long enough to still get a hand up, and you're shooting from 23'9.

You're also 6'4, which means in the League you're going to either have to play some point guard (which certainly isn't your natural position, I think you've got to be a two despite being a bit undersized), or defend some of them. I don't know if you have the defensive ball skills yet to harass top-flight points like CP3, Deron, J-Kidd, and the rest of them. That might just have to come with playing and practicing against NBA talent every day. But the jumper you can work on in the new Muma Facility, The Corral, or on the floor of the Dome. And that's what's going to get you really paid. Lottery paid.

Let's talk dollars. As you know, you're only guaranteed money if you're first round. As of this moment, I can't see how you're absolutely a first round pick. Most of the reputable mock drafts have you in the second round, with the absolute highest slotting you 22nd (NBADraft.net). There is nothing guaranteed for you right now, and in the position you're in, it's simply too big a chance to take. But even if Washington took you with the 30th pick (from Cleveland), you'd get $850,800 your first year, and $978,400 in year three of your deal. But if you were the last pick in the lottery (14th overall), you'd get $1,519,400 in year one, and $1,747,300 in year three. That's almost twice as much. And if you come back, with an improved jumper and another year of experience you can absolutely write your ticket into the lottery in 2011. Get the insurance offered by the NCAA to guarantee yourself a paycheck in case of injury, and stay so you'll make more money in the long run.

And don't worry about the potential lockout or strike. As we learned last time, NBA players don't budget their money very well and live paycheck to paycheck, and can't afford a strike. Plus too many guys are leaving this year to try and get paid because they're afraid of the lockout in 2011. That's shortsighted, and you should stay in and move up the food chain in a weaker class next year. Trust me, the NBA and the Players Association will get a deal done. Stern is talking big right now, but he knows they need to play basketball. They took a huge public relations hit in '99 when they did this, and they can't afford that again. And the rookie scale is one thing the union and the owners agree is working, so that's not changing.

There's also the matter of finishing your degree. I don't know you or your family, but the opportunity to graduate from college is something that should be a major factor in your decision. If for some reason, be it injury or some other issue, basketball isn't meant to be your source of income, a college degree will be your lifeline to a successful career in whatever you choose to do. It is an invaluable resource, and no one is hiring you for a job you might want without one. Get that piece of paper.

I don't know what Stu Jackson and the advisory committee told you (though feel free to share that info). I saw your Dad said Miami, Memphis, Denver, and Washington are interested. Guess what? They're talking to everybody under the sun right now. As is the entire NBA. Ask your friends and other people you know in this draft class, they're all getting that same vibe. Then check where they are on the mock draft lists. The teams want you to declare so they have as wide a pool of candidates to choose from. But you'll make more coming back because of the lesser talent in 2011, and by moving up that list significantly. So stay one more year, improve your skills, become a legend at USF by taking us back to the promised land of the NCAA's, and make more money in the long run. This is a win-win for everyone.

You made me take a train down from Philly to that Georgetown game, and that night, I "came to watch Dominique Jones play." It was the highest ranked team the Bulls have ever beaten, and you were brilliant. It ended so perfectly, as you gave up an easy basket for yourself so that Mercer could finish it with a dunk. I sat behind the bench and high-fived you after the game, and I'd post the video I've got of the last two minutes, but all you can hear is me screaming in celebration like Publishers Clearing House just knocked on my door with a check. You made me fly to Vegas for the tourney at the South Point, where you ensured our wins despite a depleted bench by doing what you always do... whatever it takes to win the game.

No one has more love for your game than I do. But it's not ready. Give it one more year to age and develop. It's the smart thing to do.

And selfishly, from everyone that bleeds green and gold... give us one more year. One more year that will be so special. One that will make you unforgettable to a campus forever. How about starting the Big East Tournament on Thursday instead of Tuesday? How about a full Sun Dome (and believe me, if you come back, it will be full) shouting "M-V-P!!" when you step to the foul line in February to ice another win? How about seeing "USF" on a bracket line the second Sunday in March on CBS? It can and will happen if you return.

Come back, Nique. It will make you a higher draft choice, a senior, a legend, and a college graduate.

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