Big Sky MVP Dillon Jones, like Damian Lillard, loyal to Weber State

As nicknames go, Dillon Jones’ is as utilitarian, as absolutely bang on as it is clunky and corny: Do-It-All DJ.

Hold it right there. Before you think, “give me a freaking break,” and click to a story about a better-known player with a bigger reputation and a cooler handle, you need to understand that DIADJ is the best college basketball player going in all of Utah. And NBA scouts are fully aware. Thirteen of them showed up to watch him play just the other night.

The fact that he does his business at Weber State — and gave up hundreds of thousands of dollars in NIL money to keep on doing so — shouldn’t dissuade you one bit. There once was another player at Weber who got overshadowed by a fellow in Provo with a more memorable nickname — Jimmer — and that Wildcat — Damian Lillard — ended up being the best basketball player ever produced by a school around here.

Not saying Dillon is Damian, although more than a few comparisons have been made. Even Weber State coach Eric Duft says, “Dillon has some of Damian’s same qualities, first of which is the way he works.” Second of which is his level of commitment.

After being invited to the pro combine last June, and showing out — “It was apparent Dillon could play in the NBA,” Duft says — the blue-blood schools came after him hard for his last year of college ball, if he didn’t turn pro. One coach asked Jones to “name his number.”

Instead, he told Duft he was going nowhere. “He has the same loyalty to Weber State that Damian had,” the coach says. If you haven’t seen him play, don’t you now wish you would have?

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Weber State Wildcats forward Dillon Jones (2) shoots as Brigham Young Cougars guard Trevin Knell (21) defends, in basketball action between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Weber State Wildcats at Vivint Arena, on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020.

Get a load of what this kid has done this season up in O-Town. He led the Big Sky Conference in scoring, in rebounding and in assists. He’s the only player in the country to lead his league in all three of those categories. The numbers stack up like this: 20.8 points, 10.1 boards and 5.2 assists per game. He’s one of only two players to have averaged better than 20, 10 and 5.

Wait, there’s more.

According to Sports Reference, over the past three decades, Jones is one of just two players to have totaled in a single season at least 600 points, 300 rebounds, 150 assists and 50 steals. The other player was Ben Simmons at LSU.

It may seem a no-duh tidbit here, but Jones also was named the Big Sky’s MVP, voted that by the league’s coaches, on Thursday, in addition being named all-conference first team.

Have we left anything out? Yeah, there’s this: Do-It-All DJ was named league Player of the Week eight times this season, and national Player of the Week once. He hit double figures in scoring in every Weber game, and racked up better than 20 points in 17 games. He scored 30 points three times and dished nine assists four times. In one game, he scored 30 points, hauled 23 rebounds and found space to hand out nine assists.

As for his career totals, Jones ranks in the top 10 at Weber State all time in 10 different categories, including first in steals, second in assists, third in rebounds and fifth in points.

Enough with the numbers. The bigger questions here — asked better late than never because he is a senior, after all, heading into his last Big Sky tournament on Monday — are … Who is this guy? How did he get here? Where is he going?

(Weber State) Wildcats star Dillon Jones was named the Big Sky Conference’s MVP this season after leading the league in scoring, rebounding and assists.

Jones is from Columbia, South Carolina. He’s 22 years old, stands 6-foot-6 and he tips the scale at 235 pounds. He’s the product of a single-parent family, anchored by his mom, Rozeita, who did whatever was necessary to provide for her family. He never knew his father. Dillon has an older brother, Eric Washington, who went on to play at high levels professionally in Europe, playing currently in Italy. He also has a twin sister.

The area where he lived was sandwiched on a crooked line between desperation and despair, a neighborhood that is far less than privileged and in some cases, as he puts it, “dangerous.”

Rather than run from his circumstances, he leaned in and learned from them.

“I saw things most people never see,” he says. “I saw a lot of good and a lot of bad, people making good decisions and bad decisions. It taught me what I should be doing. … It’s a place where you’re not going to be given anything. So, I worked and worked. That’s something I take pride in — as a player and as a person.” Jones was an athlete, to be sure, but he also compiled a 4.0 grade-point average in school.

He was fortunate that his part of Columbia had its share of caring people who helped him learn those aforementioned lessons along the way. His free days were spent from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. in a gym at Meadowlake Park. “That’s where I really grew up,” he adds.

He played varsity high school ball in the 8th grade and flourished from there, eventually being invited to attend in his senior year Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas, one of the country’s premier prep basketball programs. Jones was OK there, but he shot the ball as though it were a cache of nitroglycerine, and that was something of a problem. Big-name recruiters backed away. Covid broke out, as well, and that limited his college opportunities.

Weber State coaches saw him on film, and pursued him, and he accepted.

Duft says when Jones arrived, the first matters begging for attention were the hitches in the player’s shooting motion. He had decent touch, but the jagged edges in his shot needed smoothing. He hit four 3-pointers his freshman season, and the next year, he made six in one game.

“He put hours and hours into making his shot one motion,” says Duft. “He was all in, just like …”

Well, You-Know-Who.

“… He doesn’t party. He doesn’t go out. He doesn’t get distracted. He works. He’s got basketball.”

All elements of it, now that his shot is whole.

“And he’s competitive,” Duft continues. “He works to win.”

Weber has used Jones not as its point guard, per se, but he handles the ball a lot like a point guard. He’s capable of quarterbacking the offense, getting to the rim on his own, getting shots for teammates, and he plays defense, too.

“He’s really intelligent — as a person and a player,” Duft says. “He’s smart and mature.”

(Weber State) Wildcats star Dillon Jones was named the Big Sky Conference’s MVP this season after leading the league in scoring, rebounding and assists.

The combo-pack of his 3.8 GPA at Weber State and his awareness on the court is what appeals to NBA teams. At last check, Jones is projected to be a late first-round pick or early second-rounder. He thought he would have gone late in the second round after last season, and decided he could improve on that spot. That’s yet to be determined.

His lifetime dream is to play in the NBA, but he’s already realized another dream — going to college, making the most of his education, playing ball.

“It couldn’t have gone any better,” Jones says. “I couldn’t have played for a better community, a better coach. I’m grateful that I came here.”

And he’s grateful he stayed.

“It’s important to be where your feet are,” he says.

Heading into their first Big Sky tournament game on Monday, the Wildcats will make their move as the No. 4 seed. “We have a good opportunity,” Jones says. “We’re playing our best basketball right now.”

And if he and his teammates were to conquer the Big Sky and qualify for the NCAA Tournament, how would that be?

“Dope,” he says.

One last thing Jones wants to make clear to all y’all who have read this far: The significance of humility. “That’s the biggest thing,” he says. “Being humble — as a player and a person. Being a good person is more important than being a good player. And that’s what I want to be known as, a person, not just a player.”

Yeah, as Do-It-All DJ, a nickname not as clunky and corny as it seemed.

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