In an offseason full of roster changes and now seven recruiting commitments for Weber State men’s basketball, Dillon Jones became the first high school player to commit to the Wildcats for the 2020 class after being pursued by nearly 20 programs nationwide.

The 6-foot-6 South Carolina native announced his commitment mid-day Saturday and, a few hours later, WSU announced he had signed a National Letter of Intent. He’s trod an interesting path to this point and now hopes his versatility will help Weber State win like it has at his other stops.

As a junior at Keenan High School just outside Columbia, Jones averaged 12.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game to help his team win South Carolina’s 3A state championship.

At the time, he held offers from South Carolina, College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina and a handful of others.

Dillon Jones basketball Sunrise Christian mug shot 2019-20

Dillon Jones

Then, he made a decision to move more than 1,000 miles away to Bel Aire, Kansas, just north of Wichita, to play his senior season at Sunrise Christian Academy.

“I transferred to Sunrise to be exposed to adversity. I knew going there wasn’t going to be easy because it was my first time being away from home. But I felt I needed to leave so I could grow not only as a player but as a person. I was able to learn so much about myself in such a short time at Sunrise,” Jones told the Standard-Examiner. “It was hard at first, but sometimes you’ve got to pay the price ... I needed to be exposed to something I was going to have to work hard for.”

SCA went 22-3 this season and was ranked as the No. 5 high school team in the country, according to MaxPreps. The Buffaloes were expected to play in the prestigious GEICO Nationals tournament in April, which was one of the thousands of sports events canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

After SCA’s season was done, Jones received offers from Grand Canyon, Western Carolina and a few other mid-major programs.

That’s when Weber State got in the mix, too, and WSU’s plan for his player development won him over. It didn’t hurt that a pair of South Carolina acquaintances — Utah Jazz 2019 draft pick Jarrell Brantley and Tyrell Corbin, son of former Jazz player and coach Ty Corbin — had found success in Utah.

“I spoke to Coach (Randy) Rahe like daily, and that spoke volumes,” Jones said. “What really stood out was the plan they had for me; and they have the history to back it up, the track record ... The fact he’s been there, this is going to be his 15th year. He’s got stability. Stuff like that helps, too.”

At 6-foot-6, Jones describes his game as positionless but said he’d be a forward if labeled. He’s played point guard through forward in both high school stops and said he’s equally ready to run an offense or mix it up inside — which was appealing to WSU coaches.

“I can dribble at my size, pass and shoot, so it’s harder for teams to scout me. My toughness ... I can affect the game in so many different ways, even if it’s not on the stat sheet, so that’s what they said stood out to them,” Jones said.

Jones is the first WSU commit who will be an incoming freshman. He’s also the only one without college experience on which to draw during a time when recruits are not able to take campus visits. In some ways, Jones said that helped him make his decision.

“That was the hardest thing. I didn’t take any official visits, before the season or after. But it was probably good that I didn’t, it eliminated all the stuff that doesn’t matter,” Jones said. “People can get caught up in the wrong things like the arena or things like that. I had to solely make my decision a basketball decision. School is what you make of it, so I just had to come to that realization.”

Jones is the seventh player to sign to Weber State ahead of the 2020-21 season after the following six players committed and signed letters of intent: graduate transfers Dontay Bassett (Florida), Isiah Brown (Grand Canyon) and Balint Mocsan (Idaho State); junior college transfer Zahir Porter, Division II sophomore Darweshi Hunter, and Loyola Marymount sophomore transfer Seikou Sisoho Jawara.

National recruiting writers praised Jones’ game and WSU’s addition Saturday after his announcement.

“Skilled, tough and versatile forward Dillon Jones makes his decision. He’s headed to Weber State. One of the best pickups of the late signing period,” Rivals writer Eric Bossi tweeted.

Corey Evans, his Rivals colleague, cosigned: “Agree with Bossi. Jones, if placed into the appropriate role, should thrive at the next level. One of the better offseason pickups this spring for Weber State.”

WSU will pursue a big man to finalize the class.

WHY SATURDAY

Jones gave his verbal commitment to Rahe on Tuesday, but it was close enough to an important date that Jones waited for Saturday to make his public announcement.

Jones wanted to “shed light” on an issue tied to a tragedy from his hometown.

On one terrible night 10 years ago in Columbia, South Carolina, a teenage girl said she was followed home by an SUV and that its occupants fired gun shots at her.

After she was inside their home, her father went into his front yard with a handgun and opened fire, striking a different car several times.

Inside that car was 17-year-old Darrell Niles, a good friend of Jones’ older brother. An unarmed, innocent bystander not tied to the other events, Niles was found shot to death in his sedan at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, April 18, 2010 — five days before his 18th birthday.

The shooter was arrested but, three years later, a South Carolina judge ruled he was immune from prosecution under what is commonly known as a “stand your ground” law.

Waiting until Saturday to announce his college decision is “an act for me to shed light on that, so I’m going to use this time to do that ... his killer today walks free,” Jones said.

Contact Brett Hein at bhein@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter @bhein3/@WeberHQ and at facebook.com/WeberStateSports.

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