Kai Jones
Source: Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Kai Jones' Evolution: College Courts to NBA Dreams

Trace Kai Jones' athletic journey from track and field champion to college basketball standout, fueling his dream to conquer the NBA landscape.


Dec. 22 2023, Published 7:51 p.m. ET

Kai Jones was born to play sports. The son of professional basketball player Perry Jones has shown superior athletic abilities from an early age, and he even had aspirations of pursuing a career in the long jump.

Speaking with the NBA, Kai asserted he was good enough to make it to the Olympics to represent his home country, the Bahamas. "I could have been an Olympian, for sure. If you go look at the records, I was an AAU National Champion. I qualified for the Junior Olympics in triple jump when I was in eighth grade."

He added that he's represented his country before. "I represented my country in the CUT (Caribbean Union of Teachers) Games when I was in the fourth grade."

However, with some persuasion and an enduring love for basketball, he decided to hone his basketball skills and shoot for the NBA.


For his senior year in high school, Kai joined the Orlando Christian Prep in Florida, where he impressed with an average of 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks per game.

With eye-catching performances for his high school, he received offers from several NCAA Division I programs, including the Kansas Jayhawks, the University of Arizona (Arizona Wildcats), and the Oregon Ducks. He chose Texas as his college destination, electing to play college basketball for the Texas Longhorns.

Transitioning to college basketball wasn't easy for Kai.

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However, he worked his heart out. "One thing about Kai, he has the best work ethic of any 6'11" player I have ever coached," Shaka Smart, his coach, noted in 2019.

Nonetheless, Kai did not get a lot of playing time in the early stages of his freshman year. However, he did get an increasing number of minutes as the season wore on. He made his first start against LSU in the 2019/2020 season. Overall, he played 27 games, 10 of which were starts. Over this first season, Kai averaged 16.7 minutes per game and posted an average of 3.6 points and 3.2 rebounds.

During the offseason, Kai returned to Orlando to practice, improving his offensive skills in general and his shooting skills in particular.

"Every day in my mind, I was working on catch-and-shoot threes, playing with confidence, finishing with people, and just playing in transition," Jones commented on his offseason endeavors.

His work off-season paid off massively in the 2020/2021 season.

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In his sophomore season, he was shooting 7-of-16 from 3-point range, which was an impressive 43%. He also averaged 70% from the free throw line and 62% from the field. As such, he had added offensive efficiency to his game, which had a solid foundation of incredible athleticism and an ample supply of dunks.

Smart commented on his improvements, noting that "last year [the 2019/2020 season], at the beginning of the year, he was literally our last man," Smart said. "On this year's team, he's a guy who plays starting minutes and is in there when it really matters."

Jump into the NBA

In 2021, Kai decided to compete with the best basketball players in the world by declaring for the 2021 NBA draft after his sophomore season. He also signed up with an agent post-2020/2021.

During the 2021 NBA draft, he was drafted by the New York Knicks. However, he was traded to the Charlotte Hornets. He would officially sign with the Hornets in August 2023, but just a few months later he would request to be traded publicly on X (formerly Twitter). His wish was granted, and Kai is currently a free agent looking for his next team, while also promoting his music.

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