Grand achievement: Jones-Watkins nets 1,000th career point

FISHER — Jaden Jones-Watkins had not been held scoreless for a half all season.

Whether it was the first 16 minutes or the final 16, he always managed at least one bucket — typically way more than just one — but on Dec. 28 against North Vermillion (Ind.), he put up a goose egg across the first two periods.

It was an excruciating dash of irony that the Fisher boys basketball player, who is averaging 17.8 points per game, had not yet made a bucket, as he sat just one measly point away from 1,000 for his career.

But in the second half, Jones-Watkins woke up and poured in 19 points in a 60-56 win to become the third Fisher boys basketball player since 2005 to notch 1,000 career points — Zach Griffith (1,306 points from 2014-17), Mitch Elkins (1,220 from 2005-08) and Grant Pointer (1,000 from 2012-15).

“I’ve thought about scoring 1,000 points when I was little because I saw some other high school players do it that came through (Fisher). It means a lot. I played with Grant and Zach, so it means a lot to me to be up there with those guys,” Jones-Watkins said. “It’s pretty exciting, but I just want to keep winning games.”

Like most people, Jones-Watkins was not aware he was nearing the 1,000 mark and had no clue heading into the North Vermillion game that he was sitting at 999 points. Having been playing varsity games for four seasons, the 6-1 senior guard figured he was probably nearing the mark, but he hadn’t thought much about it.

“I didn’t know, but if I would’ve known, I don’t think I would’ve approached the game any differently. … It was kind of a weird game for me without even knowing,” he said of the milestone-breaking game versus the Falcons.

In fact, Jones-Watkins did not find out about his grand achievement until last Wednesday via a text from Griffith, who saw the news on Twitter.

“(Griffith) texted me and was like, ‘Congrats man.’ And I said, ‘On what?’ Then he told me, and I was like, ‘I had no clue, but thanks,’” Jones-Watkins said with a laugh. “I’m proud, but I really just want to win games. That’s the most important thing is to win games my senior season and try to repeat as regional champions. That’d be great.”

Prior to a home game against Ridgeview Friday, Jones-Watkins was honored with a ball to commemorate the achievement and introduced as Fisher’s latest 1,000-point scorer. He then scored 21 points to up his career total to 1,054 points.

He has reached the grand mark with an array of moves: Using low crossovers to blow by defenders and drive all the way to the bucket to finish in traffic with his right or left hand off the glass. Softly tossing up floaters over defenders in the lane. Catching a pass on the perimeter with momentum before hitting a one-two step then rising and firing. Spinning and fading away while going to his right. Taking defenders off the bounce, typically moving towards his left, before nailing a pull-up. And probably his favorite move, a stepback jumper.

“That’s probably my go-to. If I can’t make it all the way to the basket, just step back and hit the mid-range shot. I’ve been working on (my stepback) a lot and just working on my mid-range, and the pull-up kind of goes with that,” Jones-Watkins said. “But I like getting into the lane and kicking it to my teammates, and I like shooting threes when I can, off the dribble and off a pass.”

Basketball Jones

Jones-Watkins was not alone in developing these scoring moves.

Prior to his junior year of basketball and following the football season, during October and November of 2016, Jones-Watkins worked with Urbana High School coach Verdell Jones to hone his craft. He also worked out at the Urbana gym with Jones’ son, Clayton, a redshirt-senior on the University of Illinois roster.

They spent time doing a litany of ball handling and shooting drills, including drills in which he had pressure in his face so he could learn how to convert contested shots, during five or six training sessions on Sundays in the fall.

Jones-Watkins credited those training periods with giving him an extra edge heading into a junior campaign in which he earned an All-Heart of Illinois Conference Second Team honor and helped the Bunnies win a regional championship and 21 games, including an upset of the Associated Press’ top-ranked team in Class 1A.

“I’d say last year’s Ridgeview game was my favorite high school game. Taking down the No. 1 team at their place — we knew we could do it. And after the game, we were turning up in the locker room, that’s for sure,” he said.

He has also been able to produce under two different coaches — the more “structured offense” of former Fisher coach Ron Ragle and the “more freelance” version of Diskin’s system.

No matter who the coach, Jones-Watkins has been one of Fisher’s best scorers the last two years and can fill it up in a hurry. The senior, who began starting varsity games about one-fourth of the way through his freshman year and has remained a starter ever since, is one of the area’s best scorers at 17.8 points per game.

But he has most certainly not been alone. Fellow senior Ryan Meents has been just as capable of getting buckets (17.7 PPG), having already notched a pair of 30-plus-point games this season and has shot lights-out in many matchups. And if the 6-1 guard had not suffered an injury that kept him out for half of last season, he would be in the running for a 1,000-point career as well (he’s in the 600s right now, says Diskin).

“Ryan can definitely fill it up. He’s been scoring like that since junior high,” Jones-Watkins said. “It’s kind of the same style, too. He’s got a really good feel for the game and finding gaps, so that’s really nice to have him on the team. If I’m not scoring one night, you can count on him to pick up some buckets.”

Having a pair of elite scoring guards is a terrific luxury to have for Diskin, who knows that the tandem can be a headache for opposing coaches’ game plans.

“It’s very nice because if teams focus on Jaden because he’s a 1,000-point scorer, Ryan will sneak up on them, and vice versa. They can’t just concentrate on one guy,” Diskin said. “When you have a dual threat, if one’s having an off night the other can step up. Or, if they’re both on then it’s a fun night to coach.”

And having a third scoring option in Kade Thomas (11.4 PPG), who is probably the Bunnies’ X-factor at this point in the season, only adds to the depth.

“Kade’s definitely our defensive threat, but his offensive game is strong as well,” Diskin said. “He’s just so long and lanky, and it helps us defensively. On offense, he can sneak in there when (the defense) is thinking about Ryan or Jaden. He’s a good shooter, and he’s got a quick step and knows how to get to the hoop. And he’s a great rebounder for us as well.”

All three senior starters will be difficult to replace next season, and Fisher will lose two more seniors who have logged major minutes in Brandon Henson and Dawson Purvis. But Diskin is hopeful the example set by players like Jones-Watkins will carry over into 2018-19.

“Jaden’s a great role model and great kid to have on your team. He’s a leader for us and listens well. If you tell him to get something done, he’ll try 100 percent to get it done for you. Obviously, he’s very athletic and aggressive on offense, and defensively he’s gotten better over the years,” Diskin said. “Personality wise, he has confidence and everything, but he doesn’t flaunt it. He shows it on the court rather than verbally saying it. I think the team sees that. Through his game you can tell how confident he is.

 “He’s been a joy to coach over these past four years, and you hope you’ve got those underclassmen seeing that and someone can fill those shoes when he graduates.”

Contact Zack Carpenter at zcarpenter@rantoulpress.com and on Twitter @ZackCarpenter11.

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