Taking a breather from a whirlwind month filled with stops from coast-to-coast, sweat drips off Kai Jones as he takes a seat.
He's asked to explain how things have been as he settles into wearing the Charlotte Hornets' teal and purple.
"The first couple of weeks being a Hornet has definitely been an adjustment," Jones said. "But I’ve been getting better every day."
Jones was one of the high-flying stars of the NBA Las Vegas Summer League, nearly averaging a double-double at 9.8 points and 9.4 rebounds. He was one of a select few on his team to appear in all five games, starting in each.
His tantalizing potential was on display for everyone to see exactly why GM Mitch Kupchak had a deal in place to acquire a second first-round pick to select him in last month's draft. And Jones isn't taking the Hornets' faith in him lightly.
"It just lets me know that they believe in me," Jones said, "and they want me to do better, and they want me to be a really good player. They believe in my talent. They wanted me to be here. They see what I can become, so I feel like the are invested in me."
Jones sat down for an extended conversation with SI.com's All Hornets. He spoke about the what drives him, wanting to leave a legacy, his anticipation of playing with LaMelo Ball and more.
What are some of the things you worked on at summer league and how important is it to your overall improvement and development?
It’s huge for me because what they are teaching me is all stuff that’s going to be important for my game. Getting the ball to the other side, making quick decisions. Being in the right places, footwork. Everybody is coaching me on the right things, so it’s all huge for me in my development as a pro and to be good in this program.
The Hornets' staff has been pretty hands-on with you. Did you think you would have that type of on-on-one guidance in the NBA? Are you surprised?
No, I’m not because when I first worked out I could tell they were an organization built on developing guys. And when they were talking to me throughout the pre-draft process, they seemed like an organization that was big on young guys and developing them. That was the conversation I had with Mitch, too. He understands that it takes patience. So yeah I knew it was kind going to be like that but it’s been even more … I think they’ve had even more of an urgency since I’ve been in the organization, being around. Everybody wants me to be really good. So I can feel that.
With the three other players who were drafted by the Hornets -- James Bouknight, JT Thor and Scottie Lewis -- also at summer league going through some of the same lessons, does that make it easier for you and help mentally?
For me, right now, the space that I’m in, I’m just focused on getting better and helping them get better whenever I can. But the people who I learn from most are the coaches because they are trying to figure it out just like me, and some of them aren’t as vocal as I am. I’m somebody who is going to talk to them about getting better, but is not really that voice yet because we haven't built that bond yet because we just stated playing together.
You have been with the organization for less than a month. But can you sense the excitement from Hornets' fans? What have they been saying to you so far?
Yeah I feel the excitement for sure from the fans. They hit me up often, telling me the type of player they think I can become. I know the organization is excited. But for me, that’s based off of what I produce and what I become as a player. So I know that they are excited. But I want to make sure that I fulfill that excitement that they have by being a better version of myself every day. And I feel like I’m going to get there for sure, but it’s a process. So that's where I'm at with it. I understand they are so excited and I’m so happy that they are because I’m excited for what I’m going to become as a player, too. But right now the space that I'm in is making sure that come the season time, I’m ready to go and make the right decisions, make the right plays and help this team wins games.
Do you feel pressure to succeed and can you describe what it is like to grow up in the public eye and be in the spotlight?
For me, I love the game a lot. So I’m going to be focused on what I can do to improve. So it really doesn't feel like pressure because I just know that I’m getting better every day. I have high expectations for myself and a high standard, but I’m also wise enough to be patient and know that I’m getting better every day. And I know that people are watching, but that really doesn't faze me because I’ve been somebody who’s never really been afraid of the spotlight since I was a child. So I know that I have growth to do and if people are watching me through these growing pains, I’m not really concerned with what they are going to say. So it doesn't really bother me, growing up in the public eye and evolving in front of so many good players. It’s not really a bother to me.
Sounds like you consider yourself thick-skinned.
I’m a pretty thick-skinned dude. And part of it is I'm a realist and I know what I have get better at.
How driven are you to improve your overall game as you transition from summer league to training camp and heading into your first season?
I’m extremely driven. I’m going to really lock in even more and work on my game because I have a ton of things I want to tighten up. I’m still finding my rhythm here in five-on-five in the NBA. And for me, I feel like I’m a very talented player. It’s just a matter it figuring it out in this space. That's what I see for myself. So I’m going to keep working my ass off and I’m a very driven guy. In my head there’s no question of whether I’m going to get it or not. It’s just a matter of time. So I’m going to keep working my ass off, keep being focused. I invest a lot into myself and into this game, so I’m extremely driven. I want to be remembered. I want to leave a legacy. So right now that’s where my mind is at.
Did you have a chance to speak with LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, Terry Rozier or any of the guys who were in Las Vegas?
Melo spoke to my agent a little bit because my agent is also Miles Bridges’ agent. So Melo spoke to my agent a little bit, just telling him he’s excited to play with me. And I met Melo in the locker room a couple of times. Really fun, high-spirited guy. So I’m excited to play with him. Coach talks about having that energy. I feel like he's somebody who has that juice about him, that aura about him to where he’s trying to bring everybody together with a lot of fun, a lot of high energy.
So that’s going to be exciting to play with him, just because being around his spirit every day … He just lightens up a room, you know what I mean? I’ve been around those types of guys before, like my old teammate Terrance Clark. That’s kind of how he was. He would just light up a room with his energy, with his spirit. And that’s kind of how I am. So I am very excited to play with him because he’s kind of like me. He plays with joy and he wants to be great, too.