One of the main 2024 NBA Draft storylines concerns LeBron James and Bronny James, but every prospect has the same story. No matter who your father is, every NBA dream is stacked against longshot odds. New Orleans native Latrelle Jones is no different in that regard, but the former Nicholls State star has spent the last year sharpening his skills in the NBL in hopes of another NBA call.

The New Orleans Pelicans are giving local talents a shot recently. They had Jones in for a look last summer and the pre-draft circuit stirred up some interest. However, Jones could not wait around while other opportunities disappeared. Geelong United (NBL1) called up with a spot available and Jones claimed the job, averaging 18.5 points and 4.6 rebounds in 15 games as a rookie. Now he feels ready for another run at an NBA Summer League spot.

Jones expected nothing less despite the cultural and on-court differences of the international game.

“Growing up I learned to play basketball the right way so transitioning to an overseas style of play was a bit easy for me to adjust to,” Jones explained.

Latrell Jones takes long route to pro hoops

Pacific's Broc Finstuen, left, has his shot blocked by Portland's Latrell Jones
Clifford Oto/The Stockton Record via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Jones starred at Nicholls State (two seasons) after starting at the College of Central Florida and a one-year stop at the University of Portland. The New Orleans native did not care where his college career got started, just that an opportunity was available.

“I was always a humble guy, kind and respectful to others,” said Jones. “I had to take a longer route. Which gave me time to focus more on myself. I always knew what my talents were so instead of convincing people that I’m good, I focused more on execution.”

Chasing the dream of paying the bills through basketball started young, though money was not the main focus as a peewee hooper.

“Since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved basketball. Being a multi-sport athlete I’d play every sport just to give it a try. Over time, basketball was the sport that interested me the most so I began putting more time into it,” Jones admitted. “I’d spend countless hours a day playing, watching, and learning what it takes to be the best. I wasn’t always the most dominant player in my early years but I worked to be the most skilled player. A player that competes with the best.”

It's apt that Jones is getting calls to move up in the professional ranks on Father's Day. It is a bond built through a life in basketball that both Latrell and his father Lionel deeply appreciate. Now it's all paying off in a way that cannot be described as anything but priceless. Fathers and sons never get those hard-worked hours back but the hugs at the end of the journey made the extra effort worth every sacrifice.

“My dad plays a big part in my life helping me to a successful path through college and the pros. He was my biggest fan but also my biggest critic,” Jones joked lovingly. “He shared with me everything I needed to know, and how to be a complete player. How to really understand the concepts of the game. Basketball was all we ever talked about. We’d spend hours watching old game films. He’d always say your talent can get you there but you have to stay consistent. Put in the time and effort and it will all pay off in the long run.”

It's not always a pretty road littered with Division 1 offers, perks, and NIL money for hundreds of professionals. The grind through the lower ranks has to be something that player relishes, not something they look to avoid at all costs. The games without big crowds can be discouraging, but those that battle through the adversity are the ones who get noticed by globe-trotting pro scouts.

“It’s been a long journey since starting in Junior College and being where I am today. At the Junior College level, it’s a grind. What can you make out of every situation? I know this game can take you to a lot of places with the right approach,” Jones stressed. “So I continued to learn from coaches, players, and teammates. I was able to understand/learn how to play with others. Every year I elevated my game while staying healthy. I always had the ambition to be better. Throughout my college years, I transitioned into a mature young man and player which led me to becoming a pro.”

Solid foundation, steady progress since Pelicans camp

Jones has built upon a solid foundation to make steady progress since getting an inside look at the next level with the Pelicans.

“My experience with the New Orleans Pelicans was a dream come true. They’re actually my favorite franchise. When I was a kid, I would always envision playing in the NBA So having that opportunity was a great experience for me. Just being around and seeing how guys put in work on a daily basis and train their bodies, their physical approach towards the game, that’s something you want to be a part of.”

Being star-struck upon entering the building is fine, for a second. Undrafted invitees might only have a minute to make an impression before scouts move on to look for someone else to fit in as a training camp body. Making the most of the opportunity and never getting too discouraged is easier for Jones, who has survived through the worst storms the Gulf South weather and streets can offer.

“The thing that keeps me going is remembering where I came from, and knowing where I want to be,” replied Jones. “Seeing and witnessing some of the things I had to as a kid are unforgettable. Losing friends and family at a young age was hard. These traumas gave me reason to love what I do and to take pride in everything that I do. Opportunity is everything: that’s all I ever wanted. I try to make the best out of every situation. Over time I was building a good playing resume.”

The job was to just keep believing, keep working, and let the rest sort itself out over time. Leaning on that faith in hard times also allowed Jones to be a strong shoulder for others as well. It's something NBA teams always value when noticed.

“Basketball has always been a full-time job for me. Playing has taken me to different places all over the world. While I am very unsure of where I will be playing next season I know where I would like to be. I will continue to work until that happens. While summer league is just a few weeks away I would like an opportunity to showcase my abilities for a franchise. I’m always working so I tend to stay focused and keep my body in great playing shape. I keep my faith in God that all things through him are possible.”

Nicholls Stat star has a simple approach

Nicholls State Colonels guard Latrell Jones (11) drives to the basket around Purdue Boilermakers forward Mason Gillis
Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

The same goes for a purposeful approach to the game. Chucking out a few logo threes is fun, but having a but having a cut-throat elbow jumper was more important to a young Jones. Practice time was rarely wasted on playtime motions. Improving meant more to Jones than most, but that's what separates pros from prospects.

“I’m a huge basketball fan so I study a lot of players. Players whose style of play is similar to mine like Jalen Brown and Will Barton. I’m a big Jrue Holiday fan. I watched a lot of Kobe Bryant growing up so that’s the type of mentality I approach the game with.”

As far the mindset going forward and some advice to the next generation coming up the Crescent City, Jones stressed believing in the work and yourself. Solid principles and sound ethics lifted up the city after plenty of hurricanes. Those same character traits have buoyed a professional career that has brought pride to the community, even from half a world away.

“I am grateful to be in the position I’m in today. No matter how challenging things may get at times I try to focus more on the things that I can control, and that’s the work I put in. You have to believe in yourself before anyone else will believe in you.”