Southern Miss

Southern Miss signee has played in four states, but calls Biloxi home. Here’s why.

Isaiah Jones has been a journeyman throughout his basketball career, playing in four different states through high school and college.

After signing last week with Southern Miss, the 6-foot-8 forward may finally have somewhat of a homecoming.

On the high school level, Jones played in both Austin, Texas, and Phoenix, Arizona, while also playing AAU basketball for a New Orleans squad. He then joined the team at Div. II Biola University in Los Angeles before transferring to Connors State in Warner, Oklahoma, for a year of junior college.

Considering the wide range of places that he has laced up his sneakers, you’ll probably be surprised to hear he considers Biloxi, Mississippi, to be his hometown.

The reason behind his choice of Biloxi is that he has several family members residing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including a couple of cousins and an uncle.

“Basically every Thanksgiving and Christmas, I’d be down there,” Jones said Friday during a phone interview. “I really like the beach. They have really good food ... the seafood is amazing.”

Jones, who has a close relationship with Biloxi hoops legend Isaiah Canaan, will be much closer to family when he arrives in Hattiesburg on May 28 to begin summer classes and start practices with his new teammates. His mom, Tammie, plans to move from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Biloxi so she can see more of her son while also being closer to family.

For Jones, the decision to choose USM over his other Division I options came to down to a comfort level with former head coach Doc Sadler and the environment of South Mississippi.

“Really, the Southern hospitality got to me,” he said. “It was not only the coaching staff. Once I got on the campus, I liked the whole feeling of being in the South with everybody being very nice and kind. People are very nice.”

Change of plans

Jones’ plans of becoming a Golden Eagle appeared to be sidetracked when Sadler stepped down at USM on April 11 to take a job on the staff Nebraska. Soon after, Jones dropped his verbal commitment and reopened his recruitment.

He began to hear immediately from other Division I programs that weren’t on his radar previously. Nevada, Boise State, Wyoming and Washington State were among the schools that reached out.

On April 17, a quick search by new USM athletic director Jeremy McClain led to the hiring of Jay Ladner of Southeastern Louisiana as the new head coach. The day after his hiring was announced at USM, Ladner gave Jones a call to see if he could encourage him to jump back on board with the Golden Eagles.

Ladner’s efforts paid off with Jones signing with USM on April 26, picking the Golden Eagles over Boise State and San Jose State.

“He just made the impression that he’s coming in here to win,” Jones said of Ladner. “He has big goals for us. I feel like he wants to get the best out of everybody.”

Fitting in

Under Sadler, USM often operated this past season with four guards and a post — either 6-foot-6 junior Leonard Harper-Baker or 6-foot-11 junior Tim Rowe. Jones, who played under former NBA point guard Mike Bibby in AAU and high school, will bring some badly needed size to the USM frontcourt at 6-foot-8, 235 pounds.

After averaging 11.2 points and 8.6 rebounds at Connors State in 2018-19, Jones should provide some help on the boards for Ladner’s first team at USM.

“I feel like I’m a threat on the glass,” said Jones, who was the Freshman of the Year in the PacWest Conference at Biola. “I can work inside the paint and I can step out for a 15-footer as well.”

Ladner was hired at USM the day after the spring signing period began, putting USM well behind other programs as they look to fill out their class of signees

On Monday, Ladner added depth at point guard, another area of need, with a verbal commitment from Jeffery Armstrong of Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Virginia. Armstrong played his high school ball at Plainview in the Northeast Alabama town of Rainsville.

The 6-foot Armstrong was a First-Team All-State performer at Plainview in 2018, leading the Bears to the Class 3A state title as a senior.

Also on Monday, USM announced the signing of Hunter Dean, a 6-foot-9 forward from Mandeville, Louisiana. He picked the Golden Eagles over offers from Siena and Presbyterian. During his senior hear year, he averaged 18.4 points and 12.5 rebounds.

As for Jones, he’s just happy to have found a new college home after dealing with the fallout of Sadler’s departure.

“It’s a big relief,” he said. “After all the schools came calling, it finally came to an end.”

Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.