UNLV Sports Beat: Former Runnin' Rebel in NBA Playoffs
Derrick Jones, Jr. is a success story in his own right. He played for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels from 2015-2016, and then he went undrafted following his decision to go pro. After a brief but well-performing college career, his future as a potential NBA player was in question. But then, he received a real chance to prove his talents with the Phoenix Suns.
He quickly became a stand out in the G-League and gained the attention of the head brass with the Miami Heat. But, with a slender frame, his chance to remain in the League competing with taller, stronger, and perhaps more talented players was in question. However, Jones has proved his doubters wrong.
He has become a player who UNLV fans are proud to claim as a product of the Runnin’ Rebels program. Quick and athletic, Jones is lethal on both offensive and defensive sides of the ball. He’s used his uncanny ability and length to block shots both in and outside of the paint. But more so, he has become better known as a human highlight reel.
This was especially proven true on the national stage just this year when he competed in the NBA’s Dunk Contest. And no surprise to those who truly know his talent, he won. It was a culminating moment for a young man who some believed would spend the majority of his basketball career looking at the NBA from the outside-in.
However, he is absolutely on the inside. In fact, he’s deep inside what has become well known to professional basketball fans as “the bubble.” Playing in Orlando, Florida, Jones, and his Miami Heat teammates, are some of the few NBA players who have been able to continue on with the season. And just like Jones himself, the Heat have defied many of the oddsmakers. They made it past the first round of the NBA playoffs against the Indiana Pacers, and now Jones and his squad are inching closer to the NBA Eastern Conference Finals.
Presently, the Heat are up 3-0 against the Milwaukee Bucks; this was a team that some believed could vie for the League championship this year. Yet, the tenacity of the Heat has deflated the Bucks’ hopes as they play on the brink of elimination. And key to the defensive success for the Heat: Derrick Jones, Jr.
Yet, like so much of his career, Jones’ ability to contribute was in question; this time, the uncertainty was valid. Jones had been hurt during regular season play in the bubble. Diagnosed with a neck strain, the Heat have been careful to utilize him. However, he recently made his Semi-Finals debut and created his usual impact on the game: high flying energy on both sides of the ball. He continues to be a key role player off the bench for Miami, and he will be integral if the Heat move into the Eastern Conference Finals.
This is not the first time that the Miami Heat organization has taken a chance on an undrafted UNLV player. Back in 2012 and 2013, former Runnin’ Rebels center Joel Anthony served a similar role for the team. A tall, strong shot-blocker, Anthony helped the LeBron James and Dwayne Wade Heat earn two NBA championships. Though the major players have changed significantly, Jones could find himself in a similar position to provide the energy and efforts needed for his Heat team to make a deep run in 2020.
Jones continues to be proud of his UNLV roots. On his Twitter page, he boasts the hashtag, “RebelForLife,” and on his Instagram, “Runnin’ Rebels” is written just under his name. There’s no doubt that the man who boasts his “Airplane Mode” values his Vegas foundation, and he joins an elite group of Rebels who have lived their dream at the next level.