What is success?
Jarrod Jones always had NBA aspirations. The native of Michigan City, Indiana, dreamed of playing in the biggest league in the world, and he gave himself a chance with his college career at Ball State.
In his four years with the Cardinals from 2008-12, Jones earned two All-MAC Honorable Mentions, one spot on the All-MAC Second Team and a nod on the All-MAC First Team as a junior in 2011. He finished sixth in school history in scoring (1,615 points), third in rebounds (975) and second in blocks (115), solidifying himself as one of Ball State’s best.
But he went undrafted in the 2012 NBA Draft, and although Jones played for the Sacramento Kings in the 2012 Summer League, no permanent offer came. Overseas came calling.
“When I first started, I didn’t know much about overseas,” Jones said. “I knew Kobe’s dad played in Italy. I knew Italy, Spain, and that was pretty much it in terms of these are big basketball countries.”
Jones recalibrated and set his sights on Italy, but he was shut out from that league, too.
“No team in Italy would give me a chance,” he explained.
So, he reset again. First, he started in Ukraine, then moved to Hungary in 2013. Jones won a championship and earned MVP honors in his rookie Hungarian campaign.
“I thought for sure I would get a call back,” Jones said of the NBA Summer League, “but I didn’t.”
From 2013 to 2015, Jones played for Atomerőmű SE in Paks, a town with roughly 20,000 people.
“For 10 months, I basically ate at two restaurants the whole time, went to one grocery store, and went back and forth from my house to the gym,” Jones said of the time he would spend in Paks during the season. “That was pretty much it, all there was to do there.”
For four years, Jones bounced among teams in Hungary and France, having to wait to get his shot at Italy. He came away with the 2013 and 2016 Nemzeti Bajnokság I/A championships, the top league in Hungary, and the 2013 Hungarian Cup, and finally gained Italian attention.
For Victoria Libertas in Lega Basket Serie A, Jones dominated. He was second in the league in scoring and rebounding, averaging 19 points and 10 boards per outing.
Looking for a new challenge, he trekked to Turkey. He had heard of the league’s difficulty, even being forewarned by a coach who was recruiting him that he probably wouldn’t have the same type of numbers as he did in Italy.
Jones responded by putting up big numbers in the Champions League and keeping up with the performances he displayed in Italy the previous season.
While the player progressed in his overseas career, he kept his eyes on the NBA. Each summer, he would ask his agent to reach out to teams, aiming for a Summer League spot. But nothing ever came, and Jones had all but given up until the Miami Heat reached out to him in 2018, providing Jones with a chance.
“My mother is from Miami, so I thought, this is the perfect situation,” he said. “I can go there and maybe get on the team, go to Miami and play in front of my family. So, I went, even at 28, one of the older guys in the Summer League. But at the end of the day, an opportunity is an opportunity. I said, let me go there and make the most of it.”
He didn’t get to play much at first, but as the competition progressed, he saw more time. In the playoffs against New Orleans, Jones scored 31 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished four assists in a 110-106 win.
“This is the NBA stage right here,” he said. “These are the top players in the world right here, you know? It’s like, once you realize that what you’re doing is a success, it doesn’t matter how much money you make or if you win an NBA championship. As long as you’re comfortable and know that you gave it your all, then you can go home at night and be happy.”
The storybook result didn’t happen. Jones did not make the Heat roster and instead went back to Europe, joining AS Monaco Basket in LNB Pro A for the 2018-19 season.
Jones has never played in an NBA game, an objective failure of his ultimate goal. Yet, his story is a success: a healthy overseas career is one side of his. Another, and perhaps the most important, is what it has allowed him to do for his home town.
In 2011, Jones combined with Brawley Chisholm to created Love The Game (LTG), a basketball camp held in Michigan City and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, focused on “instilling passion and perseverance into the hearts and minds of young athletes, while teaching and enhancing the art and technique of the sport,” according to its website.
There is a charge to attend, but Jones has added something more for his community in Michigan City. After the week-long camp, Jones puts on the LTG Block Party, an open event focused on children, community and giving back.
“It’s a big barbecue with an outdoor tournament going on at the same time,” he explained. “We have a DJ on the mic, we have big bounce houses for the kids to play in, and we have LTG backpacks that I get made up. We fill them with school supplies, and any kids who want one from the city are invited to come, and we hand them out.”
Jones started the affair out of his own pocket, requiring no charge for any attendee.
“Everything is free. No one has to pay admission or anything,” he said. “It’s all complete charity outreach to the community.”
As the years have gone on, others have taken notice. Bodyarmor has began donating drinks, and Horizon Bank, which is local to Michigan City, has provided some backing. The outside interest only confirms to Jones that he’s doing something right.
“For me to start something and for these organizations to even want to be a part of my event, that let’s me know that it’s a success, something that I’m doing that people appreciate,” Jones explained.
Jones has earned a good enough living through basketball to live well and be generous to the people who were around him from the beginning. His family is happy and healthy, and Jones has been afforded the ability to see the world because of hoops. All in all, he can’t complain.
“My parents are retired, I can go home, and I’m in a position where I can give back to my community,” he said. “I can invite the entire city, give out school supplies and food, and provide games for the kids to play. If I can do that, I think I’m pretty successful.”