Coastal Carolina guard DeVante' Jones has been a beacon of light for the Chanticleers the last three seasons.
The Sun Belt Player of the Year guided CCU to another postseason appearance in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament this year.
But before Jones earned those accolades, before he became one of the top scorers in Coastal men’s basketball history and before he became one of the best defenders in the country, the New Orleans native's Coastal career almost didn't happen.
Jones arrived on campus in the summer of 2017, preparing for what would’ve been his freshman year. He was a part of Coastal Carolina‘s Coastal Excellence and Leadership (CEaL) initiative, which is a one-semester program that focuses on academics and leadership. The program is by invitation only and it grants conditional admission to students who fall just below Coastal Carolina University's admission requirements.
Despite being a part of this program, Jones' grades still fell below the required GPA and he could not play college basketball.
“It was all my fault,” Jones said. “I don’t blame nobody else but myself. It was immature of me to not stay focused.”
Despite the inability to play during the 2017-18 season, Jones stayed in Conway. He worked on his game and his academics. The family atmosphere at Coastal was something he didn’t want to leave behind.
“Talking with Coach Ellis, Coach Moss, Coach Days, building those relationships really helped me out,” Jones said. “Even when I wasn’t able to come back, they still showed love. Just being there for me, I felt like I owed them a lot.”
Coach Cliff Ellis had three character words to describe Jones and his decision to stay with Coastal.
“Resiliency, determination and perseverance,” Ellis said. “It says all those things.”
Jones was able to take a red shirt in 2017-18 and his official journey as a Chanticleer began on Oct. 27, 2018, in an exhibition against South Carolina State. Jones finished with 11 points and seven assists.
His regular season debut was just as dazzling, going for 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Jones played 27 minutes in the team's second game but then missed 11 out the next 12 games due to injury.
“It was really difficult, man,” Jones said. “Those were troubling times for me.”
Before his return to the court on Jan. 10, 2019, Jones had only played in three college basketball games since he left high school in the spring of 2017. The difficult times that Jones had experienced allowed him to “get closer to God.“
“I was so lost,” Jones said. “I didn’t know or understand why God was doing this to me. But I stopped questioning God and started believing in him more. Look at me now. He’s helped me out a lot.”
While Jones only played 11 minutes in his second game back, he began to improve.
He would score double figures in 12 out of 15 games, including a 30-point performance against Louisiana Monroe. His impact on the team on both offense and defense as a freshman was noticed by members of the Sun Belt Conference. Jones was named the 2018-2019 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year.
“I put a lot of hard work into my game,” Jones said. “I love this game. I’ll do anything for it.”
Jones proved to the nation why he was one of the best young players in the country during the 2019 CBI tournament. In the quarterfinals, Coastal was matched on the road against West Virginia, a Power Five team that was a year removed from a Sweet 16 appearance and had been ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation that season. Jones went for 30 points against the Mountaineers, leading the team to a 109-91 win in Morgantown. It was the first time since 1975 that West Virginia had allowed 100 points in a loss at home.
“Once people found out that we are going on the road to West Virginia, everyone doubted us,” Jones said. “They said we couldn’t beat a Power Five. We wasn’t ready. We couldn’t compete with them. I just instilled that into my guys and said we got to take advantage of the opportunity we’ve been given. We went in there and we were locked in from the jump.”
Jones remain humbled talking about his success, giving much of the credit to his coaches and teammates. While he shared his gratitude for the players who were around him his freshman but that are now gone, there is a current player who has essentially become a brother to him. That is junior guard Ebrima Dibba.
“I didn’t really like him at first, to be honest,” Dibba said with a laugh. “We both came in playing the same position.”
Any tension that was mounting between the two was quickly erased after a few practices.
“We really clicked,” Dibba said. “We both realized that we wanted to win. We just clicked real fast after the first few practices we had together.”
With some quality players coming back like Dibba and Jones for 2019-20 season, it looked as if Coastal was going to do some damage. In the Myrtle Beach Invitational, Coastal routed Pac-12 opponent Utah by 20 points. The team had a lead against Big 12 opponent Baylor at the half. Four minutes into the second half, Dibba went up for a layup and landed awkwardly, tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL.
“I know that when [Dibba] went down, it was up to me to lead on both sides of the floor,” Jones said.
Following that game, the red-shirt sophomore emerged as a leader and he carried the Chants through a difficult season. In the 28 games that followed Dibba’s injury, Jones scored in double figures in 24 of them, including three separate 30-point performances.
Despite the success, Jones was critical of himself.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job [leading] because we lost to App State in the second round,” Jones said. “I felt like we learned a lot that year, especially myself."
That knack for scoring continued into this season. Out of 23 games, Jones has scored in single digits only once and it was nine points. With 22 games in double figures, including 12 games scoring 20 or more points, Jones averages 20 points a game, making him one of the best scorers in the Sun Belt.
While the season certainly looked and felt different due to the adjustments made because of COVID-19, Coastal still persevered, going 16-7 and securing a No. 2 seed in the eastern division of the Sun Belt Conference.
One of the biggest factors in the Chants' success is that both Dibba and Jones remained healthy throughout the entire year.
“[This season] gives us a picture of what we could’ve done,” Dibba said. “if the two of us would’ve been healthy the last few years, the sky would’ve been the limit for us.”
Coastal came up just short of playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015, losing to eventual tournament champions Appalachian State in overtime. Following the heartbreaking loss to the Mountaineers, Jones was seen outside the locker room in the arms of a coach, crying into a shoulder. With a bright future and possible sights on a professional career, many considered that to be Jones' last game as a Chanticleer.
“I’m sorry teal nation, I couldn’t keep my promise,” Jones said in a tweet on Mar. 7 following the loss.
Four days after the defeat, Jones was named the conference player of the year and a second postseason chance was given to Coastal a few days later as they accepted a bid to participate in the 2021 CBI tournament.
Coastal has had success in that tournament as the Chants were the runners up in the tournament in 2017.
The last three whirlwind seasons have put Jones on the map and in the sights of NBA scouts and draft blogs.
“His numbers speaks for itself,” Dibba said. “If he wanted to go to the league right now, I think he’d be ready.”
Jones said making it to the NBA has been a dream of his since he was a kid and seeing him being mentioned on draft blogs is encouraging.
“I take that as motivation,” Jones said, adding that he “definitely believes he can make it to the league.”
Whether the team falls on Monday in the quarterfinals or advances all the way to Wednesday night's championship game, Jones has certainly left his mark as one of the best all-around players in Coastal Carolina history.
As it stands, Jones ranks 12th all-time in points (1,355), 10th in assists (346), tied for ninth in steals (153), first in free throw percentage (85.5%) and fourth in scoring average (20 PPG).
Coastal has certainly seen some incredible players such as Jack Leasure, Elijah Wilson and Zac Cuthbertson. Ellis said Jones is among those legends.
“He’s right there,” Ellis said.
Jones and the Chants look to bring back the program's first piece of hardware in six years as they play Bryant on Monday afternoon in the CBI quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m.