'They really wanted me': DeVante' Jones puts NBA on hold to chase titles at Michigan

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

When DeVante’ Jones first entered his name in the transfer portal in late April, it didn’t take long for his phone to blow up.

Within the first five minutes, Jones estimates he had 20 coaches reach out, and it got to the point where he had to put his phone on “Do Not Disturb.” But it proved the 6-foot-1 guard was a coveted commodity after earning Sun Belt Player of the Year honors at Coastal Carolina.

"It was definitely overwhelming. … It was crazy,” Jones said Friday during a Zoom call with reporters. “It was also an amazing experience knowing that all those college coaches were interested in me and loved my game. It made me feel good about how far I've came and how far I've got to go."

New Michigan guard DeVante' Jones (3), a grad transfer from Coastal Carolina, opted for one more year of college over staying in the NBA Draft.

And where Jones is headed next is Ann Arbor. He committed to the Wolverines on May 1 and tested the NBA Draft waters until he withdrew his name on Monday. His addition was formally announced by the program on Thursday.

According to Jones, Michigan wasn’t among the first schools call to him and didn’t contact him until a week after he entered the portal. But what separated the Wolverines was their team approach, with head coach Juwan Howard, assistants Phil Martelli, Saddi Washington and Howard Eisley, and director of program personnel and development Jay Smith all reaching out.

“It was a collective effort. That's why they stood out because every other school it'd be one person, two people that you're talking to,” said Jones, who arrived in Ann Arbor four days ago. “But with Michigan, it was the whole coaching staff. I feel like they really wanted me. They said they studied my game, they understood my game. They showed me that they really care and they told me that I fit with the team, so everything about them stood out to me.”

At Michigan, Jones figures to take over the point guard duties from Mike Smith, and will look to follow Smith’s footsteps as a graduate transfer who makes a seamless transition to the Big Ten. Smith found success after adjusting to a new role last season, going from one of the top scorers in the Ivy League to one of the top distributors in the Big Ten.

While Jones will face more talented and athletic players in the Big Ten than he did in the Sun Belt, he said it won’t be anything that he hasn’t already seen before. He played against high-major teams during his three years at Coastal Carolina — he had 32 points against West Virginia as a freshman and scored 16 and 10 points, respectively, against Utah and Baylor as a sophomore — and had a strong showing during the pre-draft process at the G League Elite Camp.

Still, Jones said Smith gave him some advice during their time together at the G League pre-draft showcase: Don’t try to do too much, do what you do best, be vocal, be dependable, be a leader.  

“Honestly I just feel like I'll come in and do whatever is best for the team,” Jones said. “I feel like I won't have to score as much but if I do have to score the ball, I'll be able to score. I feel like I have a high IQ and I can pass the ball to more talented guys now, so that won't be a problem either.

“Me coming in, I just want to show that I can control the team. Being a point guard and being able to lead the team, that's the big thing for me. That's some questions scouts had about my game. Can I lead the team? Can I control the game? That's the main thing I'm focused on. I know everything else will take care of itself. I have a great group of guys that believe in me, so they're going to make it very easy for me."

One of those players is fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks. Like Brooks, Jones can play either backcourt position, whether it’s serving as the primary ball-handler and initiating the offense at the point or playing off the ball at the two.

And like Brooks, Jones can get the job done on both ends of the floor, as evidenced by the 19.3 points and 2.8 steals he averaged last season.

“We both feed off each other,” Jones said. “I feel like it'll be an easy transition for both us no matter what position we're at. … I feel like the sky is the limit for the duo of me and Eli."

Jones said he heard “a lot of great things” during the pre-draft process and was generating buzz with his performance at the G League camp. He even had a lot of scouts tell him that he’d be an NBA player this year or next year, depending on the decision he made.

All that had Jones close to staying in the draft. But, ultimately, Jones said he gave his word to Howard that he’d be heading to Michigan.

“I'm a man of my word so I stuck to that,” Jones said. “Coming back with a great group of guys trying to win a national championship, that sounded like a no-brainer to me. I couldn't pass up on that opportunity.”

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins