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June 16, 2011There was money on the table. Good money. NBA first-round draft pick money.
All Terrence Jones had to do was skip out on Kentucky after his freshman year and he was all but guaranteed a handsome sum of it.
Draft analysts expected Jones to do just that after he averaged 15.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game last season. Many fans expected it, too.
Even some of Jones' UK teammates anticipated that he'd jump into the NBA Draft rather than return for his sophomore season. Jones was projected as a likely late lottery pick, a 6-foot-8 power forward who could have landed anywhere in the first 14 picks.
"I thought he would leave," sophomore Doron Lamb said Thursday. "If I was him, I would have left, if they said I was going lottery. But that's him, and he decided to stay, and I think he'll be better next year."
Lamb admitted he was surprised by Jones' decision, though he concedes he knew it before Jones tweeted it to the world on Derby Day. And Lamb wasn't alone in his surprise.
Since Jones elected to pull his name out of the NBA Draft pool, people have asked how he managed to turn down that first-round money in favor of another season of college hoops.
"A lot of people (ask about it)," Jones said Thursday. "Even people in my family. I just felt like it wasn't going to go anywhere for me and that I'd be able to still make that jump (to the NBA) whenever I do feel ready."
For now, Jones isn't ready. He wants to improve. He wants to make a run at the NCAA championship after falling two wins short as a freshman. And though Jones said he needs to mature, he also wants to keep being a kid.
"College was just too fun, and I just wasn't ready to leave," Jones said.
Still, Jones said, the decision didn't come without careful consideration.
"(It was) tough, just because I'm not that good at making decisions by myself," said Jones, who famously flip-flopped on his college choice, opting for Kentucky after initially committing to Washington. "Having help with (John Calipari) and my mom and everybody made it a lot easier, just not putting the pressure on myself. And neither (choice) being wrong made it a lot easier."
Lamb also mulled his options after a freshman season in which he averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 48.6 percent from three-point range.
"I was thinking about just testing the waters," Lamb said. "But I decided just to chill out and get ready for next year."
Lamb agreed with Calipari's assessment that he needs to add weight and strength, a process he's started this summer. And like Jones, Lamb cited a shot at a national title as a key factor in his decision to return.
In Jones and Darius Miller, the Wildcats return two full-time starters from last season's Final Four team that lost in an NCAA Tournament semifinal to Connecticut. Lamb started 14 games and played starter's minutes off the bench, averaging 28.4 minutes per game in 38 appearances.
To that core, Kentucky adds the nation's top-ranked recruiting class: point guard Marquis Teague, swingman Michael Gilchrist and forwards Anthony Davis and Kyle Wiltjer.
Calipari has stocked his roster with top-flight freshmen in each of his three seasons at Kentucky, but Miller said the Cats' NCAA title hopes were bolstered by the return of relative veterans Lamb and Jones.
"(Lamb) was a big part of the run last year, so we know he's going to come back and do the same thing and probably do even more," Miller said. "We're happy to have him and T-Jones back. We know they're going to do a lot for us."
Jones made the biggest sacrifice in returning. The possibility of an NBA lockout kept some of college basketball's top players in school for the season, meaning next year's draft could be deeper.
But that didn't deter Jones, who said he "wasn't worried about any other player in my decision." The only opinions that mattered, he said, were his mother's, Calipari's and, primarily, his own.
In his heart, Jones wasn't ready.
Now he has his sights set on his sophomore season, and on the 2012 NBA Draft, when Jones said he hopes to be a top three pick.
And if he should fall out of the lottery altogether?
"That would be very frustrating," Jones said. "But I just feel it would be on me. For that not to happen, it would be because I did something wrong, and I just feel like I won't let that happen to myself."