Kevin Jones Still Pursues NBA Dream, Has Advice For Sagaba Konate
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — In the end, all you want is a chance when you are starting your career and Sagaba Konate, the shot-blocking Mountaineer from Mali, got that chance after being passed over in the NBA Draft last week.
He signed with the NBA champion Toronto Raptors and will begin his quest for the top at the bottom, playing in the Las Vegas summer league.
What lies ahead for Sagaba Konate? What kinds of land mines are there in the path of someone who isn’t drafted?
There was no better place to go than former West Virginia star Kevin Jones.
Jones left WVU as one of its greatest players, coming off a senior season in which he averaged 19.9 points a game and 10.6 rebounds, a double-double for each time he took the floor.
Despite being the fifth all-time leading scorer at WVU with 1,822 points, fourth leading career rebounder with 1,048 and the all-time leader in offensive rebounds at 450, he wasn’t drafted and that set him off on a career that led him not only through the the NBA developmental league, ow called the G-League, but across the world.
In his seven years since playing at WVU he played in France twice, Serbia, Russia, Philippines, Spain and, this past year, Japan.
“It matured me a lot,” he said Friday, back in Morgantown, which he has made his off-season home. “It allowed me to see a lot of different worlds and cultures that I wouldn’t have seen if I wasn’t playing basketball.
“The more I think about it, the more grateful I am to be in this position. Of course, it’s not where I want to be. I want to ultimately playing in the United States, but it’s been a blessing.”
He knows the pot holes along the way and, yes, he knows the satisfaction, too, of tasting life in the NBA, having played 32 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2012-13, averaging 3.0 points and 2.4 rebounds a game.
“It was sweeter for me because it wasn’t given to me,” Jones said. “I had to work really hard for it like I did for most of the things in my life. I just cherished the time I was there because there’s not a lot of people who can say they made it to that level. I was thankful for that.”
How many hours had he put into the gym to get there? How much pain, sweat, tears did he endure?
The stay in the NBA was worth all of it.
“Man, I’m really here.” he remembers thinking when he had his first game. “This is what I’ve been always dreaming about. This is what I spent my whole life working for and now I’m finally here.
“It was more a grateful feeling than anything. It was really emotional, but I knew I had to really play to show people why I deserved to be there.”
So what did it take to get there and what will he tell Konate is ahead of him?
“Every situation is different,” Jones said. “From my situation, coming in undrafted, you have a little bit of weight on your shoulder. You have to perform every day. You have to be the first one in the gym, the last one to leave.
“You have to have that mind set to outwork everybody because you are not guaranteed anything like those other guys are. That’s how I went into it.”
But Jones always had that mind set. Is that within Konate?
We’ll find out soon.
What advice would Jones offer to a kid starting out undrafted?
“I would say to Sags there are going to be ups and downs, so don’t let it get to you. You have to go in with a mature state of mind. You have to know nothing will be handed to you and you have to go out and earn everything you get,” Jones said.
“You might be playing well and still get disappointments you think are undeserved, but you just have go on the court and give it your all. I think that’s what Sags will do.”
In the end it comes down to one thing, hanging on that dream you are chasing.
Jones says he remains in hot pursuit of one more chance.
“Of course, I never let it go. As you get older, priorities change and you tend to go different routes, but the dream is still there. It never goes away,” he said. “I always think what life would have been without basketball, but I couldn’t imagine it. Basketball has been my first love.
“Even if I’m not in a place I want to be, I’m in a better place than most, so I cherish that.”