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Former Saint Mary’s star Rob Jones passes on invitation to tryout with NFL’s Minnesota Vikings

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

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Former Saint Mary's forward Rob Jones won't try his hand as an NFL tight end. Not yet, at least.. (AP)

Tony Gonzalez. Antonio Gates. Jimmy Graham.

All three were college basketball standouts who went on to change their athletic courses after graduating, earning livings on the gridiron.

Rob Jones has no interest in joining that list at the moment.

The former Saint Mary's forward, who averaged 15 points and 10.8 rebounds this past season in his second and final go-around with the Gaels, has turned down an invitation to try out at the Minnesota Vikings' upcoming rookie minicamp.

Over four collegiate seasons, first at San Diego, then at Saint Mary's, Jones made a name for himself as a versatile force in the frontcourt,  putting up big numbers despite being smaller than several of the trees he regularly banged against.

But even though a 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame might put him at a disadvantage as a power forward, it would give him a distinct edge as a tight end.

Still, Jones appears more interested in playing hoops professionally. He's likely not NBA-bound, but for a player with his résumé, he could make a nice living overseas for the next several years.

"I wanted to see where I can go with basketball first," Jones told CSNBayArea.com. "Two or three years from now, if I'm not where I want to be with basketball, I can still have that option.

"Football is intriguing, but it's really a decision I made five years ago."

Five years ago was the last time when Jones, 23, put on the pads.

As a senior at Archbishop Riordan High in San Francisco, he caught 33 passes for 499 yards and seven touchdowns. When he headed to USD to play hoops, he met the school's former football coach — and now San Francisco 49ers head coach — Jim Harbaugh. He even considered trying playing both before transferring, but both he and Harbaugh left before that ever came to fruition.

Jones is currently training in Houston in preparation for June's NBA draft, and he could be correct in that the same option could be on the table for him in a couple of years should hoops not work out.

After all, the power-forward-turned-tight-end trend isn't likely to die off anytime soon.

After Gonzalez and Gates paved the way over the last 15 years, Graham's emergence as a Pro Bowl tight end for the New Orleans Saints has been purely remarkable.

Graham averaged just 4.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game for the Hurricanes on the hardwood from 2005-06, but stayed on campus for a fifth year to try his hand at football. He caught just 17 passes in the 2009 season, but went for 213 yards and five scores, doing enough to intrigue many NFL scouts. He was taken in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft, and last season, in his first year as a full-time starter, caught 99 passes for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns. For a matter of just hours, before the mark was broken by New England's Rob Gronkowski, Graham was the NFL's single-season record-holder for receiving yards by a tight end.

What Gonzalez, Gates and Graham all had in common that translated so well onto the NFL field was not just a combination of size and athleticism, but all three had great hands and could time their jumps perfectly as rebounders. That made all three reliable threats — especially in the red zone — in the NFL. Jones led the West Coast Conference in rebounding as a senior, averaging 11.3 caroms per game in league play.

Graham certainly won't be the last to successfully make the transition. But, for at least the time being, Jones won't be the next.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for RunRebs.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanmgreene.

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