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The Last Dance: On Cam Jones and his Santa Cruz career
“When you win a D-League Championship, opportunities open up for everyone. Look at Rio Grande Valley last year, they won the title and everyone has moved on to bigger and better things.”
—Santa Cruz Warriors Coach Casey Hill.
Thursday is the beginning of the end for the Santa Cruz Warriors ride as they play in their second consecutive NBA D-League Finals. Warriors coach Casey Hill has discussed all season long opportunities for players to move on to the D-League and carve out new careers beyond Santa Cruz.
For fans, it’s the last time they will be witness this group of players come together to play at Kaiser Permanente Arena. Some might return to Santa Cruz next season, but a majority will not. Only three players returned from last year’s final squad initially (Cam Jones, Daniel Nwaelele, Moe Baker) while several others returned from overseas play (Lance Goulbourne, Stefhon Hannah).
“A championship. That’s all I want,”
—Cam Jones on media day.
He’s one step closer to finding his way to a title. The shooting guard out of Northern Arizona continues to battle proving the naysayers, the nonbelievers and the nearsighted folks wrong. Those who don’t see Jones’ true value on the court. It’s time they visited the eye doctor for some new lenses, because Jones is the real deal.
With each passing game, ‘Killa Cam’ slayed defenses with his ability to penetrate the lane and hit the baseline jumper. Fearless, fervent, and formidable, there hasn’t been a challenge Jones wasn’t willing to step up to. He hits them head on, turning each doubter into a believer with each made basket.
“He told me I’ll be an NBA player, that if I keep working hard I’ll make it to the league.”
—Cam Jones on pregame discussion with Hall-of-Fame NBA legend Jerry West earlier this season.
While fans have seen players come and/or go, one thing has remained constant over the last two seasons in Santa Cruz. Cam Jones is a constant reminder of the daily grind, someone working hard to pursue the dream and not giving up simply because those believed he didn’t have what it takes. This season has seen its fair share of players depart.
Dewayne Dedmon earned a full-time contract with the Orlando Magic but not before stops with Golden State and Philadelphia. Seth Curry saw appearances with Memphis and Cleveland before returning to Santa Cruz. Hilton Armstrong found his way eventually to Golden State, recently earning a full-time contract with the team.
“Yes, I do consider myself one of the leaders with this team.”
—Cam Jones on leadership role.
Yet Jones has remained as a vocal leader on the court, calling out defensive schemes, fighting through ball-screens and leaving it all on the court each and every night. For him, it’s just another day at the office. It just so
happens his cubicle comes in the form of a 94 by 50 foot rectangle. While most consider their wastebasket the closest they’ll come to an NBA dream, Jones is inching closer and closer to a hardwood floor he can call home.
Thursday will be the last time fans will see Jones slash through the lane and finish with ease. It will also be the last time to see him play alongside guys like Seth Curry and Daniel Nwaelele, all destined to go onto bigger and better things next season regardless of the finals outcome.
When Jones pauses at the free-throw line, the fans should pause and reflect on the contributions Jones has made both on and off-the-court in the community. From delivering Christmas presents to underprivileged children, to taking part in reading sessions with kids, Jones has made a lasting impact in Santa Cruz. No amount of ankle-breaking plays or clutch free-throws define him more than what he has done for the city.
When PA Announcer Brian Day grabs that microphone to shout Jones’ name among the frenzied fans at Kaiser Permanente Arena, savor the moment.
But that’s the point of the D-League, to move on and have a meaningful career. This is just the foundation, and Jones has finished pouring the concrete. It’s time to put up the walls, bring in the new furniture and appliances and come home to the NBA. His arrival is long overdue.