TAMPA — Dominique Jones has the hunger of a man looking for a job again, and on many days, you'll see him on the practice courts at the Muma Center, working to get himself another chance in the NBA.
"I'm just seeking an opportunity," the 24-year-old said, preparing for a three-day free agent minicamp hosted by the Milwaukee Bucks. "An opportunity to go out there and be myself. I've played with so much weight on my shoulders, so much pressure. To just have fun, to get back to what I used to be when it comes to playing basketball. It's been a while since I had a good time, just playing and smiling. That's what I'm getting back to."
Jones, a 6-foot-5 guard from Lake Wales, has had a difficult three years in the NBA. First he watched from the bench as the Dallas Mavericks won an NBA title his rookie year in 2011, then he couldn't get regular minutes in the following two seasons, culminating with his release by the club in March. He's confident he can find a fresh start with a new team, but for now he's working out where he made a name for himself with the Bulls.
"He's at that crossroads, where he has to again prove that he's an NBA player," USF coach Stan Heath said. "I don't think it's so much talent. I think most people believe he's an NBA talent. I think a lot of it's more mental: Can he fill a role? Does he fit into what the team and the coach is looking for? He can do that. There's no question about that."
Jones was a star at USF from the start, becoming the first Big East freshman since Georgetown's Allen Iverson to score 30 in consecutive games. He was a first-team All-Big East selection as a junior, left early for the NBA draft and was validated with a first-round selection, with Dallas owner Mark Cuban sending Memphis $3 million in cash for his rights.
At USF, Jones was an every-minute player, but he found the opposite in the NBA. Even after veteran guards Jason Kidd and Jason Terry moved to other teams, Jones still didn't get much playing time in Dallas. In the Mavs' final 30 games with him on the roster, he played in just five. He showed promise in a Feb. 4 loss at Oklahoma City, with 15 points in 14 minutes; he totaled four minutes over the Mavs' next 10 games, taking one shot. He says he never was a match for coach Rick Carlisle's system in Dallas.
"I like the way they played, but I didn't think it was for me, when it comes to my personality and the coach's personality," Jones said. "You see guys that don't do well in certain situations, and they go to another team, new coach, new system, and they blossom and shine. I didn't get a chance to play much, play consistently, develop my game. You have to be on the court to learn. You can't be on the sidelines and learn how it is. You get better by playing. … This past year, it should have been my year."
Jones has more career points in his three stints in the NBA Development League than in his limited action with the Mavs. After his release from Dallas, he signed with the D-League's Springfield Armor and played nine games, averaging 15.8 points. The Armor is affiliated with the Nets, now coached by Kidd, who taught him much as a Mavs teammate; Jones said his agent has had conversations with Brooklyn as a possible new opportunity for him. He doesn't see another D-League stint in his future.
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"After the draft, after summer league, we'll see how things weigh out," Jones said. "I doubt I'll be in the D-League, ever. It's about financial things. I'll go overseas before I do that again. I want to play at a higher level because I deserve to be. Whatever it comes to, I'm just going to keep working."