Jemerrio Jones is an anomaly. The 6’5” senior from New Mexico State is not a scoring guard. And he doesn’t look like someone who plays with power—he’s a lean 195 pounds. But he’s playing with the big guys, that’s for sure.
Jones is averaging 12.7 rebounds, second-most in the country. He’s the only guy under 6’6” in the top-20. He’s ahead of Marvin Bagley III, Deandre Ayton and Mohamed Bamba. (Interestingly, many of the 6’5” guards who are in the top 100 of the rebounding chart are all in mid-major schools.)
Jones is a rebounding savant. He has what coach Chris Jans calls “sonar” when it comes to tracking down the ball. He’s already fifth in single-season rebounds for the Aggies all-time. And he’s leading a surprising team with Cinderella potential. The Aggies clinched the WAC regular season title last weekend with an 82-58 win over Missouri-Kansas City. Jones had 15 rebounds, seven assists and a career-high 23 rebounds.
New Mexico State is 24-5 and looks like a lock for the tournament. For Jones, getting back to the dance and doing well is the only thing that matters. “This is my last year,” he says. “I’d really like to win.”
Before he could dribble, Jones could rebound. Growing up in Memphis, Jones started his basketball career as a big man and didn’t really learn to dribble until he was 12. (Says Jans: “I don’t know who made [rebounding] important to him at a young age, but he’s learned the tricks of the trade.”)
Always being a rebounder got him college attention, but an ACL injury in his junior year of high school limited his options. He made his way to Hill Junior College in Texas. In the NJCAA tournament as a freshman, he had 72 rebounds in five games, breaking Shawn Marion’s record of 68 from 1998.
Jones really doesn’t think about much other than rebounding. “I don’t really care for scoring,” he says. “I can score a little bit, but I like to see my team score. That’s why I rebound. I do the little things.” Jones did average 11.7 points over two seasons at Hill and is averaging 10.7 this year.
The fact that Jones broke Marion’s junior record is fitting, beause the two play a similar game. Like Marion, Jones does a bit of everything (although Marion was a much more impactful scorer). Last season, as a JUCO transfer to NMSU, he averaged 9.7 points and 8.4 rebounds. He was named to the WAC All-Newcomers team and helped guide the Aggies to a tournament bid.
But a new season and a new coach—who knows how to push the right buttons on Jones—has lead to breakout season for both the Aggies and its new-wave guard. The Aggies hired Chris Jans in last April and he immediately sensed a way to get Jones even more involved in the action.
Jones is uber competitive. Sometimes, it leads to him checking out in practice. “If our practices or drills aren’t competitive, he’s not that interesting in participating. It’s just his nature,” says Jans. But harness it in a game, and watch him go.
Jans allowed Jones to push the ball up the court after a rebound. It works in two ways. One, it’s hard to defend—not many teams run up the court with four guys. And second, it’s something he likes doing, and motivates him to get the board. “I can make something happen every time,” Jones says.
It’s materialized in Jones having 10 games with 15 or more rebounds, and 17 double-doubles, which is tied for ninth in the country with player of the year candidate Jock Landale of Saint Mary’s.
Add in Jones with grad transfer guard Zach Lofton (19.4 points, 5.0 rebounds) and junior swingman Eli Chua (9.2 points, 5.2 rebounds), and it’s a banner season in Las Cruces.
“The best thing we got going is that we haven’t reached our potential,” Jans says. “We haven’t hit our ceiling. These kids are hungry.”