Joe Jones III and Jalen Thomas are the newest Panthers big men

The men’s basketball team features two centers who are all about the team. Photo courtesy of Mike Holmes.

They both come from different backgrounds: One is from Detroit; the other is from Buffalo. One played at a Catholic high school; the other played in Canada. One is 6 foot 9 inches, the other 6 foot 10 inches. One is a center, the other a forward. Both have started at center.


Panther family, meet Joe Jones III and Jalen Thomas. 


Jones started the first five games of the season and has now started the last five games of the season. Recently, however, Thomas is getting the starts–he started all six of Georgia State’s games in December. He averages 5.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 0.7 steals per game. Meanwhile, Jones averages 4.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.6 blocks and 0.1 steals per game.


Both players are strong on defense, a foundation of head coach Rob Lanier’s gameplan. They protect the rim well and, overall, can keep up with any forward in the conference. 


“I love playing defense, to be honest, and being able to block shots and rebound,” Thomas said.


That said, however, the two also have room to improve offensively, particularly when it comes to shooting. Thomas wants to become a better three-point shooter, which would complement an already solid mid-range jumper quite well for a player of his size to his midrange game. Jones wants to become a better all-round player and get out of his comfort zone.


Immediately after being hired in April 2019, Coach Lanier set out to recruit the two to his squad. Knowing that the Panthers lacked height and size last season, he needed to find big meant to complement his talented guards. 


But what makes these two so special? Why did Lanier want these two to be the anchors for his defense? 


They both come from successful backgrounds and successful high schools. Let us dive in a bit more for an explanation.


Thomas attended the University of Detroit Jesuit High School after moving back to
Detroit for his freshman year. In his senior year, Thomas joined six fellow seniors and led the team to a 25-3 record and a state championship game appearance.


Thomas attended school there because it was a top-3 school in the state in terms of education and high school basketball. He grew up as a Michigan Wolverines fan and rooted for them even though his mother attended Michigan State. With the exception of the Red Wings, he was a fan of all of Detroit’s professional sports teams: the Lions, Pistons and Tigers.


Lanier recruited Thomas while visiting the University of Detroit Jesuit High School. Originally, Thomas intended to play at the University of Massachusetts, but his decision swayed with the hire of a new coaching staff.


Some of his favorite NBA players and biggest influences include Tim Hardaway Jr., Derrick Walton Jr., Trey Burke, LeBron James, Joel Embiid, Kevin Garnett, LaMarcus Aldridge and Carmelo Anthony.


Jones was recruited by Coach Lanier while playing for Orangeville Prep, a school in the Canadian town of Orangeville, 35 minutes from Toronto. Lanier and assistant coach Cliff Warren recruited him to play for Georgia State.


Before going to Orangeville Prep, Jones attended the Park School in Buffalo, New York, where he led the school to a 17-6 record as a senior. After being recruited by coach Nate, he played for one year at Orangeville Prep, leading his team to an 18-1 record. They finished first in league play and as the No. 1-ranked team in Canada.


Jones’s favorite basketball teams are the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. His favorite players? Los Angeles Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James and Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal.


Jones is the younger brother of former 2007 No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden. He has talked about following in his older brother’s footsteps and becoming one of the next great college big men to ever step on the hardwood.


“People got my expectations high off of him, so I just really try and be myself because I’m not him, and I’ll never be,” Jones said. “He just made me keep going, working harder really … because I got something to prove that I’m my own person.”


Both Thomas and Jones have enjoyed playing for the Panthers, being with their teammates and playing for Coach Lanier. They describe their teammates as being very fun-loving and fun to be around. They describe their coach as being someone that gives them lessons off the court as well.


“They’re a bunch of funny guys,” Jones said. “We’re always together when we’re not on the court for the most part … it’s a great time to hang out with them.”


Even better for the team, the two are very close and love to be around each other. When they are in practice and on the court, they always encourage each other to play hard and play well.


“We’re going to push each to the limit,” Jones said. “He wants me to be better, I want him to be better, because we know we’re going to be here for however long … together, so we might as well push each other while we’re here.”


As far as starting lineup decisions go, Coach Lanier has decided to start Jones the past few games based on his aggression while playing. The starting center for each game depends on the opponent and the level of aggression Coach Lanier wants to use and who gets to start at center depends on the game and the level of aggression.


No matter who starts and who comes off the bench, both Thomas’ and Jones’ main goal is to win. The freshmen hope to win championships, and they are both more than willing to play their part in order to help their team achieve those goals.


It is players like these two who build a strong foundation of toughness and exceptional effort.