With the 2020-21 NBA regular season wrapping up, it is time to start focusing on this year’s draft and some of the many talents that will begin their NBA journeys next season. From playing high school basketball in Cincinnati, to playing at Radford to transferring to Louisville, Carlik Jones finds himself on the verge of making his NBA dreams come true!
I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Carlik Jones as he begins the pre-draft process and his ultimate goal of one day reaching the NBA! Jones talked about his basketball journey and how he is ready to make an immediate impact at the NBA level.
Growing up, what kind of a role did basketball play in your life and what was life like for you and your family?
Carlik Jones: I have been playing basketball for what feels like my entire life and I know a lot of people say basketball is life, but for me, that is reality. I truly believe that and I grew up believing this because that’s the only thing my life revolved around besides family and friends. At a very young age, my mom and dad gave me a basketball and that was it… I immediately fell in love with the game of basketball. I would always be outside, playing until it was dark out and I have dedicated my life to the game I not only grew up loving as a kid, but to the game that I still love more than anything today. Basketball has always been my life’s story and this journey through college and going through the NBA Draft process is just the next chapter for me in my life with basketball.
Coming out of Aiken High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, what was your basketball journey looking like in regards to college offers and the potential of playing Division I Basketball?
Carlik Jones: Coming out of high school, it was rough for me because I did not have many playing offers. Just knowing that I put in so much work through school and AAU and then not getting the immediate recognition I thought I deserved was tough. Growing up, playing in school and AAU, I personally think I played against some of the best basketball players in the country and some of my friends that I played with as a kid are now in the NBA. In high school, this left me wondering why I was not getting that chance to prove myself like they did? It was then I realized that my journey was going to be a little different. It was going to take me a little longer than others and I was not mad about that, but used that as an opportunity to build myself both as a player and a young man. Sometimes, you just have to work for what you want and everybody has different paths — my path was just a little different than theirs. It was definitely stressful not getting offers to play right away, especially near the end of the AAU season, but eventually, my work and grind paid off and I never quit on the mindset that I could be a Division I basketball player.
Was there ever a sense of doubt that you may not play collegiate basketball or did you know that you would earn an opportunity to prove yourself somewhere?
Carlik Jones: For me it was more of figuring out where I was going to play rather of if I was going to play college basketball. It did not matter to me if the best program in the country wanted me to play for them or the worst program, I just wanted to play college basketball and I knew that I could immediately make a difference if someone was willing to give me a chance. I know a lot of people say if you do not go to Division I, you are not good and are not going to make it, but I did not look at it like that. Whoever was willing to give me a chance and an opportunity, I was going to make them proud and myself proud in the process. Whoever was willing to take a chance on me, whoever was willing to give me the opportunity to prove myself, my mindset was that I was going to make the best of it. Some kids were getting multiple offers at the time, but I did not let this bother me, I just kept working hard to try and prove myself and I was blessed to hear my phone ring numerous times near the end of my AAU playing career with multiple Division I offers.
What was that moment like for you when you got your first college offer?
Carlik Jones: I got my first call near the end of my final season of AAU ball, my second-to-last tournament, and I was sitting in the car with my head coach of the team. All of a sudden, my phone starts ringing and I look at my phone like “who is this?” I learned during the recruiting stage, that if you are an AAU or high school player, you have to answer the phone regardless of whether or not you know the number because you never knew if that was going to be an offer. I was really bad at this too growing up because being from Cincinnati, if someone called me with a Cincinnati area code and I did not know the number, I would not even answer my phone! So at this moment, I did not really know what to do because I had never experienced this before. My coach literally had to tell me to answer the phone because I did not know what to do! I guess I got so caught up in the moment that I do not remember much of what was said other than that I received my first collegiate offer and that I had a grin from ear-to-ear that my coach immediately started laughing at. He just nodded his head and said “it must be an offer!” After the initial phone call, my phone rang again and another program was giving me an offer. Then a third coach called me offering me a scholarship and this was all before I was going to play one of my final AAU games ever! This was such an unreal moment for me to be getting a call from multiple college coaches because this was a small little glimpse of my dreams becoming a reality. This was the moment that I realized that all of my hard work was beginning to pay off and the next chapter in my basketball career was being written. However, this did not mean that I could relax and let things play out… this was just the start of my hard work and the road presented to me in Division I basketball.
At Radford, you quickly became one of their best players and then in 2019-20 you were named the Big South Player of the Year. Was this the satisfaction and proof you needed to let everyone know that you were more than capable of being one of the top players in college basketball?
Carlik Jones: Absolutely, definitely! For me, I just did not complain if I was struggling and I never put my head down if things were not going my way. From the beginning of my collegiate career I felt like people definitely had their doubts about me, especially since I redshirt my first year at Radford, but this may have been the best thing that ever happened to me. I did not get to play in games my first year, but being able to practice every single day and not only learn from some of the older players on that team, but challenge them every single day definitely helped me become one of the top players in that program. Where I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, the narrative for young, aspiring basketball players was that you may be one of the few great talents locally, but there are hundreds, thousands of other kids who are just as good as you and they all have dreams of playing collegiate/professional basketball, so what makes you special compared to them? I always kept this in the back of my head and when I stepped out on the basketball court at Radford, I always believed that I was the best player on the court, no questions asked! That is just the confidence I had and still have in myself to not only aspire to be great, but to make those around me better as well. The biggest thing that helped me become the Big South Player of the Year was knowing myself, my game and the work I put in. I did not care if people said I could not do it or that I was not the best because at the end of the day, I knew that both me and my team could be the best and that was all that mattered to me.
In one season at Louisville, you were the leader of that team on and off the court and were named a captain of the team after being there for a month or so. What do you think this says about your character and your leadership abilities as they translate to the NBA?
Carlik Jones: As much as personal success matters to me, I was always willing to do what it takes to make my teams the best they can be. From high school basketball, through AAU and through my college playing career, I just made a name for myself. A lot of people tend to have more respect for you when you win a championship or when you break a school record, but for me, I gained the respect of my coaches and teammates by being the humble human being I was raised to be. As it pertains to being named a captain at Louisville, I think the biggest thing for me was my positive attitude and personality coming in as a graduate senior. Getting to know each and every one of my teammates and building what will be lifelong friendships with them is something I truly cherish and is something that I believe has and will continue to help me become a better player. Having a sense of comfort and friendship with all of your teammates directly correlates to finding team success on the court and for me, making sure there is a positive energy in our locker room was key. You may lose a game or two, but at the end of the day, you and your team will find a lot of success if you all get along and enjoy being with each other more than just on the court. Gaining respect is key in any aspect of life and for basketball, just being the most talented player or most decorated player does not mean you are a great leader. Those who are willing to put in the time to build relationships with everyone in an organization or program and show them the respect that they deserve — those are the true leaders in life and that is the kind of person I have built myself to be.
What was the most challenging thing you faced playing at either Radford or Louisville and how will overcoming this challenge help you at the next level?
Carlik Jones: I would not necessarily say there is one experience at either Radford or Louisville that was challenging, but I would say the whole journey of going to college, not just as an athlete, but as a student is definitely a challenge! You know, many people think athletes just go to school to play a sport, but getting a great education and making my family proud with a degree was just as important to me as finding success on the basketball court. The biggest overall challenge basketball wise was answering the question people were asking me of whether or not I could play at a higher level on a higher program like Louisville and still be as effective and successful as I was at Radford. I know a lot of people from my hometown did not believe me one bit that I could go to college and do what I was doing in high school and be successful, but my friends, family and teammates thought the world of me and believed in me. They would always tell me “Man… you can go to Louisville or you can go to any of these high majors and be successful because we know your work ethic!” This was my motivation every single day I played in college and ultimately, it helped me get to Louisville and continue to prove all of my doubters wrong, on top of my own self-motivation. I may have been at Radford, but I always thought to myself, “You know what, I am one of the best players in the country!” I understand my record and stats may not always show that and I know that my team’s success may not always show that, but I personally always felt that and always had the mindset of I was the best. Making that jump from low-major (Radford) to high-major (Louisville) was definitely a challenge given the difference in skill-level of everyone else on the court, but for me, I immediately made an impact and the rest is history.
Speaking of the NBA, who was your favorite player growing up and is there a player that you have tried to pattern your game after?
Carlik Jones: My favorite player growing up was Kyrie Irving. While he is only 6 years older than me, following his journey from high school and AAU through his time at Duke and into the NBA really made him my favorite player given how talented he is. I know I am not going to grow overnight, so I try to compare myself to guys and pattern my game to those who have a similar body build to me and play a similar position. Guys like Chris Paul, C.J. McCollum and Kyrie Irving are all guys that I watch film on from time to time and try to incorporate a little bit of their successful play style into my game. All three of these guys are similar in nature, but they all bring a little bit of a different aspect to the game… something that I can kind of relate to since I believe I can contribute in many different ways to a team instead of just one. All three of these guys have found a lot of success at the NBA level and hopefully being able to model myself after all of them will help me find my own success and build my own legacy.
Personally, I think your basketball IQ and playmaking abilities are some of the best in this draft class, but what do you see as your biggest strength as you begin your NBA journey?
Carlik Jones: My overall ability to be a playmaker on both ends of the floor is what I think really sticks out about my game. Now I am not going to sit here and say I am going to block every shot and get 10+ steals a game, but if you put the ball in my face when you’re trying to shoot, I will block it or steal it! I am always willing to do what it takes to win and I am never willing to back down from a challenge. I am really big on myself and have more confidence in myself than anybody else does. Whether it is putting in the time to get better or never giving up on something, I always find myself looking to challenge and push myself to be the best version of Carlik Jones on and off the court that I can be. At the end of the day, everybody is human. Some may look different than others or wear different clothing than others, but we are all still humans. What defines us though and separates us from each other is our work ethic and I truly believe that I work harder than anybody else who is in my position. I pride myself in my abilities to be a playmaker on both ends of the court and one of the biggest things that separates myself from others is my ability to make my teammates better. I am always looking to bring out the best in everybody and I want everybody around me to get better… not just me to get better, but everybody else as well! If I am getting better and you are getting better and we as a collective are getting better, then it is going to be hard for our team to lose and hard for people to beat us.
Since you declared for the NBA Draft, what’s been the biggest thing or biggest change you’ve noticed in your day to day life?
Carlik Jones: Obviously the easy answer for me is no school! Honestly, the best part about my life changing is how much free time I have to try and better myself as a basketball player. If I want to go to the gym three or four times a day, I have that freedom to go and do so. Being in college was great and I loved every second of playing at Radford and Louisville, but having more time to focus on my journey and my skill level is definitely the biggest difference in my daily life. With the draft quickly coming up and all of my focus on that, this is really a time for me to focus solely on basketball and how to make myself the best player I can possibly be. Being away from my family is tough as always, especially since we are on opposite sides of the country now, but knowing the belief they have in me to be successful helps push me every single day to make sure I am the best version of Carlik Jones that I can be.
What would getting drafted to one of the 30 teams in the NBA mean to you?
*Carlik immediately smiled after asking him this question*
Carlik Jones: Man… I do not think there are words that can explain how big and important this would be for me in my life. Personally, just how motivated and how hungry I am to get there… this would mean the world and it is hard for me to describe this feeling. I see friends and guys I used to play against playing in the NBA and I sit here and say to myself, “I used to play against these guys. I can play against them now as well!” Getting drafted into the NBA would just mean a lot to myself, my family, my cousins, my grandmas… it is just really a big thing in my life that I have been gunning for ever since I received my first college offer. To be able to take care of not only myself for the rest of my life, but being able to take care of those that I love would mean the world to me. There were times in my life where my family was not as fortunate as others and I remember those dark times where I felt like our family was struggling, so having this opportunity to provide for them and give back to those that have helped me get to where I am… there are just no words to describe what this would mean to everyone in my life. My mom and dad spent a huge chunk of their life and their money to help me potentially reach my goals, sacrificing their own in the process, so having this opportunity to give back to them would be everything. This is my chance to change my life forever, my family’s life forever and a chance to complete a goal that I have been working my whole life to achieve.