Featured image courtesy of BU Athletics.
By: Ethan Fuller
Boston University men’s basketball added a prolific sharpshooter to the roster when CJ Jones committed back in October 2019. The Los Angeles native spent a post-graduate year in NEPSAC competition as a member of Vermont Academy, where he wowed college coaches with his ability to get open and make shots from long range.
The 6-5 guard becomes a Terrier after choosing BU over a dozen-plus Division I offers, including Bucknell, Vermont and Penn. But the road to Boston and Division I basketball was foggy at times. Jones talked to Ethan Fuller this week about his path to BU, his play style, and his passion for music.
Ethan Fuller: When did you start to realize that you could reach the Division I level?
CJ Jones: That feeling came about as late as I thought it could come. My junior summer on the club team I played for, the club guy told me, “You’re a D3 player, D2 player, maybe you could walk on at an Ivy if your grades are good.” But I basically had gone into this meeting with him thinking I could play in the WCC and the Patriot League, and I just wasn’t that level of a player. And hearing that was like, wow, maybe I’m not a Division I player.
So that summer I went to six of seven Ivy League camps … and the coaches asked me, “Have you heard of prep school?” And I’d heard of schools like Oak Hill, but I’m not really familiar to what they’re talking about, and I get introduced to NEPSAC. It was actually at my Dartmouth Elite camp that I met Coach [Mike] Quinn. At that camp I met Coach [Alex] Popp of Vermont Academy. Two months later we went out and visited.
EF: So you looked at post-grad right before senior year?
CJ: I had a good idea that I wanted to do post-grad. I was a late bloomer, I was still growing, my dad grew late, I’m still developing. Senior year was really tough — I had no Division I recruitment. Any Division I radar was completely off the table. There were definitely times when I thought, wouldn’t it be easier to play D3 somewhere, or just walk on? What if I end up doing this year and I don’t become a Division I player — now what?
I came home one day and I started telling my mom all this and she was like: shut up. Made me go work out. And from that point on, I never second-guessed it again. There was a two or three-month period [after senior year] where I got a skills coach, I started going five times a week with him and three times a week on weights. Started going out less, sleeping more, eating better food, and just totally leveled up in two months’ time.
EF: When did that recruiting breakthrough come?
CJ: The big thing I was preparing for were the two NEPSAC live weekends we had. Those were the two weekends you were gonna have 100, 200 college coaches on hand. I was focusing on: I’m gonna let them know who I am and why I worked so hard. And it was so awesome. I played some of the best basketball I ever played. Halfway through that week I got my first offer and by the time I got home I had six offers, and by that time the next week I had twelve. It completely blew up.
It kinda wasn’t a surprise at the same time because I sat down and I laid it out, and I put all my eggs in one basket and locked on that. The fun part for me was going from this unknown guy to the top guy on my Vermont Academy team. You have all these guys who have been recruited since eighth grade and they’re just like, “Damn, how did you make that happen? Tell me how to do that.”
EF: You committed well before BU would have this successful season. What made you choose the school and the basketball program?
CJ: Even just the first phone call I got from Coach [Joe] Jones — he’s a super charismatic, big-energy guy. I was like, wow, he’s really genuine. Throughout the recruiting process you get to talk to so many people and you’re trying to figure out whether he’s for real or if it’s just an act, but I continued the relationship with Coach Jones and Coach [Michael] Quinn and was able to get on campus and see what the culture was like at BU and was realizing that would be the place for me.
What I realized on the visit was that there’s so much I’m gonna be able to get out of the college experience … just by being in the city of Boston alone. To me it felt like Boston didn’t get enough of the college love — I don’t know, maybe it just wasn’t on my personal radar. But [the visit] completely opened my eyes.
EF: You’re also really interested in music and film. How do you think you can explore that in Boston?
CJ: To me, it sounded like [BU] could cater to wherever you want to go or reach for. I obviously have this passion for basketball, but my dad actually works for Fender [Guitars]. He played basketball in college and then overseas and now he works for a music company and taught himself how to play guitar. Music’s huge in our family; I make little beats on my computer, my brother and I do. Music and basketball, especially hip-hop, are so synonymous.
Dreaming as big as I can is wanting to pursue what I’ve learned. Whether or not I’m still playing basketball, with the education I’ve received … with the college experience I have, maybe I can take a music class, or a film history class — classes where, is this really for me? I can see that.
EF: Who are some players you like to watch?
CJ: The main guy I’ve always watched is Klay Thompson. Between him, Bradley Beal and CJ McCollum, the way those guys are able to shoot it but also defend on the other end of the floor is something that I want to raise my game to. One of the really great pieces about those three guys is even though they’re all known for their shooting ability, they can all play within space and make stuff for themselves as well as teammates. That’s a role I can play to get me a lot of minutes in college.
EF: And BU plays in space and moves the ball around a lot. How do you think that skill set will fit in nicely with what they do already?
CJ: It’s gonna fit great. One of the things I’ve been able to learn right away is it’s such a great group of high-character, hard-working guys. Playing with guys with that kind of personality makes it easy because they understand some of the more unselfish aspects of moving the ball and setting off-ball screens, and the value of being a good teammate and putting in hard work. All these little things that go into building a winning culture, which is exactly which I think BU won this year. These are kind of like my people. I think I’ll have a lot of fun playing with these guys.
EF: With the coronavirus locking down California, what does a workout look like for you now?
CJ: [My friend] has a weight room in the garage at his house and I have a 10×15, small little slab of backyard space with a hoop so we can get some mid-range work in. But mostly it’ll just be an hour, hour and a half of lifting in his garage and after, just play one-on-one or shoot a little bit. You’re always training and preparing for something and right now is big, preparing for BU and wanting to get in the best shape, but it’s a bummer. You’re kinda just waiting.
EF: If you could pick any team to upset in the NCAA Tournament, who would you pick and why?
CJ: I think it would probably have to be Duke if we’re gonna say dream, dream upset. As crazy as it would get, I think Duke would be the coolest thing ever. I became a big Kyle Singler fan watching him and those Duke teams that were winning at that time. I’m also sort of a Dukie — not a big Duke fan, but I admire everything that program does. That would be nuts.
EF: If you could pick a single pregame hype song, what one would you pick?
CJ: The pregame hype song I’ve used the past couple of years has been “Dipset Anthem.” That’s a song I play every time we get off the bus — I don’t know why, it’s just a habit I have. Something about that song feels like you’re about to go into battle.
This interview has been edited and condensed.