Last March was a blur for Rutgers basketball fans after two huge wins to essentially clinch an NCAA Tournament berth, followed by the cancellation of the postseason due to the global pandemic COVID-19. One positive that was easy to miss was the verbal commitment of 2021 wing Jaden Jones. who made the announcement on March 4, the day after the Scarlet Knights knocked off a top ten team in Maryland in the last home game of the regular season.
The former teammate of current Rutgers freshman Mawot Mag at Prolific Prep in California, Jones transferred to St. Louis Christian Academy and is a top 5 prospect in the state of Missouri. His top six included Alabama, Arizona, LSU, USC, and San Diego State before choosing Rutgers. He was a 4-star and Top 100 recruit at the time of his commitment, but strangely fell back to a 3-star and 139th in the 2021 class per the 247 Sports composite rankings this past summer. With the pandemic, the usual AAU circuit and offseason events for players to be evaluated by college coaches was cancelled, so that likely had something do with it. While rankings aren’t nearly as important as how the player actually fits within a program, Jones is likely to rise within the rankings after his recent performance this past weekend.
He competed in the Wootten Top 150 camp in Mansfield, Texas, an annual event that features many of the top recruits in the country. Jones was a star of the event, leading his team the championship and winning MVP honors in the title game.
Adam Zagoria was at the event and included Jones in his list of top 8 players that stood out at the event. On Jones, Zagoria wrote:
“Jaden Jones flew under the radar at this camp, but he was one of the most consistent prospects over the weekend. He helped lead his team to a victory in the championship game. Jones is a 6-7 versatile wing that can score on all three levels but what stood out to me was his on-ball defense. During the championship game, he took it upon himself to guard Wade Taylor (Texas A&M commit) or Tyrese Hunter (Iowa State commit). Both of these high-major guards terrorized defenders all camp long, except Jones. Jones forced two key turnovers late in the game to seal the victory. The Rutgers commit can come in day one and make an impact.”
That description alone makes it clear why Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell coveted Jones, as he checks many boxes that make him a great fit for the program. He is a versatile offensive player that can score in multiple ways while also able to defend multiple positions. Jones often posts on social media regarding his workouts and appears to fit the mold of gym rat that Pikiell describes as the type of player he has stocked the roster with in recent years.
Jones drew praise from multiple recruiting analysts who saw him play at the Wootten Top 150 Camp:
Rutgers commit Jaden Jones stood out at the MCDAAG evaluation camp this weekend. Led his team in scoring and was able to showcase his very (very) scary potential.— Jake (@jakeweingarten) October 26, 2020
One of the youngest players, is a 6-foot-8 guard. “Big guard” as we say nowadays.
#HEADSUP @RutgersMBB commit Jaden Jones— The SportsInfluencer (Jabari Johnson) (@HeadsUpSI) October 25, 2020
was a @Wootten_Camp Top 150
A big guard (6'8) with PG skills and a smooth shooting stroke. Scored at all levels and had several highlight dunks. Led his team in scoring in the SHIP Unique player with some scary potential pic.twitter.com/nragxRHH5u
2021 Jaden Jones @JadenJonessss Rutgers Commit has intriguing size at 6’8 to compliment his skillset, passing ability, shooting touch. Jones helped his Camp team win the championship & his versatility was noticeable especially in that game. @Wootten_Camp pic.twitter.com/mY6kdcUMFC— Andre’ Powe (@AndrePowe11) October 26, 2020
An underrated aspect of Rutgers’ breakout campaign was their ability to land an impact recruit in the following recruiting class before the season even ended. That’s a true indicator of how far the program has come perception wise in recruiting circles after Pikiell routinely had scholarships to fill just a couple months before the next school year began. With the pandemic soon changing the way recruiting operated in for the 2021 recruiting cycle, the timing of when they landed Jones was fortuitous.
Overall, Rutgers is in a solid position with its 2021 class, despite the extended dead recruiting period during the pandemic. They had three open scholarships available in the 2021 class, but have filled two as they also received a verbal commitment from 3-star point guard Jalen Miller in August. Miller explained his reason for choosing Rutgers in this Sports Illustrated article and is an intriguing floor general for the future.
The coaching staff also appears to be prioritizing Roselle Catholic’s Corey Floyd Jr., a 4-star combo guard, along with UConn, Auburn and Miami. How they ultimately fill the last scholarship in the 2021 class remains to be seen.
As to what the roster will look like when Jones arrives next year is unclear in part due to the NCAA’s ruling on this season not counting against eligibility for players due to the pandemic. It’s too early to know how it all unfolds, but Jones seems primed to be a factor for Rutgers upon arrival. Keep in mind that Jones is only 17 years old and has the potential to improve significantly in the next few years. Also adding a point guard in Miller will give Pikiell a deep backcourt group to mix and match with on both ends of the floor for years to come.
It is hard to overstate how much the state of recruiting has improved under Pikiell and his staff. Watching the progress on the court last season was a true joy. However, understanding how much the fruits of their labor on the recruiting trail over the years have helped turn this program into a winner has been amazing to witness.