Last month when Jalen Cone decided he wanted to transfer from Virginia Tech for his final two seasons, he purposed in his mind to choose fit over name.
Like most hoops fans, Cone was glued to the TV watching the madness that is March unfold in Indianapolis, specifically as it pertained to Oral Roberts’s run behind star guard Max Abmas.
Cone and Abmas are roughly the same height with similar styles, and Abmas led the country in scoring during the regular season, posting 24.1 points a game. He upped that production to 27.1 points a game before eventually falling to Arkansas in the Sweet 16.
Cone considered the usual Power 5 schools like Oklahoma State, Indiana, Penn State, Nebraska, Buffalo and Iowa State, but ultimately, the lure of having an “Abmas-like” run next March was too tantalizing for Cone. On Tuesday he opted for the mid-major route, committing to Northern Arizona.
“Just seeing what Max was able to do on the national level in March and the whole year had a major impact on my decision,” Cone said. “Seeing someone my size with similar skills have that type of impact was an eye opener for me.”
This season, Cone averaged 9.2 points in 19.9 minutes, but had a breakout span of six games where he averaged 17.2 points and shot 43.3% from the three-point line.
Shortly thereafter, Cone suffered a foot injury that ultimately sidelined him for the last month of the season.
“I’m back to around 85% now,” Cone said. “I’m just taking it slow, and that’s why I didn’t try to rush back this season. I want to be at 110% when the season starts.”
Cone was consistently one of the most dynamic scorers in the country in high school, averaging 34 points per game as a sophomore and 30 points per game as a junior before reclassifying up and joining the Hokies a year early.
Cone said the greatest lure was learning how Northern Arizona featured guard Cameron Shelton this past season.
Shelton led the Lumberjacks and the Big Sky Conference in scoring (19.2 ppg), assists (4.2 ppg) and rebounds (5.9 rpg).
“I loved the freedom they gave him,” Cone said of Shelton. “They really believed in his talent and let him go and play off his instincts. He wanted to be a bigger school, but I’ve already experienced that and now I want to showcase my game to the world. I feel like Coach [Shane] Burcar and Coach [Fowler] are gonna give me the opportunity to do that.”
Ultimately, the goal is to win the Big Sky conference and get to the NCAA tournament. The Lumberjacks haven’t accomplished the latter since 2000, but Cone is confident he can help turn that around.
“With some of the new pieces we’ll be getting and the pieces that are already there we’ll have a chance to win the conference,” Cone said. “And ultimately, have a chance to make noise in the NCAA tournament. I’ve learned that Power 5 conferences and school names don’t matter as much. I look at Max and Damian Lillard and guys like that, and it’s all about the fit and the opportunity. At Northern Arizona it’s the right fit and they’re giving me the opportunity. I’m gonna handle the rest.”