Arkansas basketball star Mason Jones, the 2020 co-player of the year in the SEC, has not hired an agent and hasn’t totally shut the door on a return for his senior year but it appears likely that he will enter the upcoming NBA draft.
Speaking on the “The Morning Rush” radio program Jones said, “There’s really a good chance that I’m going to stay in the draft and take on bigger challenges. Dealing with God and how everything went this year I feel like coach Muss (Eric Musselman) put me in a position where I can go out there continue my journey and continue to show my worth. Right now in my journey I feel like I’m ready for bigger challenges and I’m ready to accept ’em and see where God takes me.”
Jones heaped heavy praise on Musselman and the role he played in helping Jones evaluate his future plans. “Him getting NBA feedback for me and helping me with all scenarios, not just me coming back but for me going too,” Jones explained. “For a coach to help you and get NBA feedback from teams is amazing. All the coaches have been doing this so it’s always a blessing to have coaches that are very invested in you and want to see you have a good future. Who wouldn’t want to play hard for a coach that basically treats you like a pro before you go pro. I’m excited to see what coach Muss and the rest of the staff have for the future.”
Jones downplayed a dust up he had with his head coach during the Missouri game in Columbia this past season, an argument that was captured on the telecast and led to him missing a start the following game.
“It was just two people wanting to win,” Jones recalled. “As you could see if you watched it live, me and coach Muss really have a close relationship. On the court he was more like a coach and I was the player. Off the court he was more like a mentor. Sometimes I had games where they thought I wasn’t playing good. I could have played better. That’s just him making sure I lived up to expectations and was ready for every game. When he got mad it was, ‘Mase you got to play harder,’ Mase you’re looking lackadaisical.”
“For him to call me out, I really loved it,” Jones continued. “At the end of the day it all paid off. We grew from it. It never stopped us and at the end of the season were were still close and we still love each other.”
Jones revealed a highly personal side of his head coach when asked about the moment in Nashville when Mussleman had to explain to the team that the remainder of the SEC Tournament and the entire NCAA Tournament had been canceled because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The 2020 NCAA basketball season was over.
“I woke up and I had a little cough and I told (team trainer) Mark (O’Neal) and he said, ‘I think they’re going to cancel the tournament,’ ” Jones remembered. “They called us down to the meeting room and coach Muss starting talking. I never thought I’d see the day that coach Muss would cry. You could see all the pain. As players we wanted to make a run. We wanted to make a statement. But God has plans for everybody and he’s going to watch over us and keep us safe. I hope everybody stays at home because it’s very serious.”
Various NBA draft projections do not look encouraging for Jones who appears to be a middle second round pick at best and will perhaps have to go the free agent route. Jones acknowledged that there are questions about his athleticism which is why he studied various NBA players who have overcome the same issue.
“I really starting watching people this year. Watching film. I just wanted to see how they used separation on their shots. Their angles,” Jones revealed. “They’re not really athletic but they know how to get their shots when they want it. I took a lot of stuff and added it to my game this year. James Harden on his step backs and the separation he gets and when to go to the rack. When you know the angles and your body, it’s really hard to stop you.”
Sophomore teammate Isaiah Joe is also reportedly weighing his NBA options but as of yet has made no statements regarding the possibility leaving school early. Jones says the two talk frequently but never about basketball.
“We really talk about life and things outside of basketball,” Jones said of his conversations with Joe. “We know that a lot of people are coming at us about basketball so it’s good to get your mind off basketball and about life. Just, ‘How are you doing? Are you good? Is you family good?’ Just personal things. People get tired of talking about basketball. A big decision is coming for Isaiah and I just want him to make he best decision for him.”
If he ultimately doesn’t like his draft evaluation Jones was asked if he’d thought about what it would be like to come back next season as the man on campus that could possibly lead Arkansas to a Sweet Sixteen appearance, which would be the school’s first since 1996.
“I really haven’t thought about it,” Jones answered. “It would be sweet being the man on campus but you also have to think about how you want to be remembered. Did you leave it all on the court? Do you feel like you have anything left to prove? You never know what will happen but right now I’m just letting God handle it.”