When DeQuan Jones finally got a moment alone after making the Orlando Magic's roster, he sat silently for a while in his rental car outside the team's practice facility, reflecting on his good news that defied NBA odds.
Here's how big of a long shot Jones was in making the team, let alone starting a game for the Magic: He wasn't invited to any predraft camps, wasn't listed in the league's media draft guide and worked out with only three teams. He was the seventh-leading scorer at the University of Miami last season as a senior, light credentials that led to a quiet evening at his parents' house last June, when he watched the NBA draft and didn't hear his name called.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say an ounce of doubt didn't creep in my mind," Jones said of his NBA dreams. "Nobody expected anything. It was more so a shot in the dark."
Jones got workouts with the Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks. While working as a Pistons executive, Magic assistant general manager Scott Perry liked the athleticism he saw from Jones, a 6-foot-8 guard/forward. Perry soon added Jones to the Magic's summer league team, where he made a strong impression that landed him a training camp non-guaranteed invite.
Jones began believing he could make the Magic when he scored 22 points in a preseason game against the Pistons on Oct. 16. (His career-high at Miami was 16). He made a strong final impression in the preseason finale, scoring 16 against Houston.
The Magic had to make the tough decision of keeping either Jones, veteran swingman Quentin Richardson, who had two years and $4.5 million left on his contract, or young guard Justin Harper. On Oct. 27, the Magic gave Jones the nod.
"I just sat in the car for about 10 minutes and replayed everything that happened the last couple years of my life," Jones said. "I just wore a smile. I just can't stop smiling."
Two days later, the 22-year-old was apartment hunting in Orlando with a new salary of $473,604.
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"He was smiling ear to ear when we told him," Magic GM Rob Hennigan said. "We told him it doesn't get easier from here, it gets harder. It speaks to the perception of timing. DeQuan put himself in this position because he was in shape, – his effort, his athleticism – and he made great plays."
Not bad for a player who had a lackluster college career that included a career-low two games started as a senior, and an average of 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game. His top highlight was perhaps competing in the slam dunk contest at the Final Four. His lowlight was serving an 11-game suspension as part of the investigation into former Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, who said he gave a then-Miami assistant coach $10,000 to give to a member of Jones' family to aid his recruitment. Shapiro also said he believes Jones had no knowledge of the transaction.
Jones, who was later reinstated, denied receiving any money or ever meeting Shapiro. He said the "suspension wasn't justified" and believes the scandal hurt his standing in the NBA heading into the draft period.
"I looked back on that as a teaching point," Jones said. "It taught me how to deal with adversity and how to persevere. In the future adversity is guaranteed. But that moment taught me how to deal with it, how to stay positive, how to believe in myself and not give up."
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Miami coach Jim Larranaga said Jones played sparingly during his college career because he made the mistake of "making a habit of trying a lot of different things" like shoot a "Kobe Bryant fade-away jumper." Once Jones focused on rebounding, Larranaga said, he was able to improve his game – and that makes him a "major success story."
Jones missed the Magic's season-opener because of a strained left groin. But with swingman Hedo Turkoglu out indefinitely with a broken hand, Jones started the next two games for Orlando at small forward. He had two points Sunday in his NBA debut against the Phoenix Suns as a starter, but described the moment as incredible.
Said Jones: "My hat goes off to the Orlando Magic organization for giving me an opportunity in summer league and training camp. They obviously saw the potential in me and took a chance."
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