As Perry Jones accepted the home white Thunder jersey with the blue No. 3 stitched just below his last name, he had to check with general manager Sam Presti about something before sitting back down at his introductory news conference on Saturday.
“Is this mine?” Jones asked.
“Yeah, you can keep that,” Presti answered.
Meet the newest member of the Thunder, a player so accustomed to working for everything he gets that he wasn't sure his first pro jersey belonged to him.
On his first official day on the job, Perry Jones III, off the court, was everything he was cracked up to be.
He was happy yet humble, ready to start but eager to learn.
“When you get a chance to meet him, I think you'll first be impressed with his humility,” Presti said of the 28th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Jones will make his basketball debut with the Thunder at the Orlando Summer League on July 9. For now, he's just a 20-year-old stuck on cloud nine as he now wakes up each day living out what a week ago was still just a dream.
“It's still a whirlwind,” Jones said. “I've been nervous since they called my name (Thursday night). But I've enjoyed myself out here. But the process was a long grind, so it feels good to actually be somewhere that I can call home.”
Jones was forced to wait nearly three hours into Thursday's draft to learn where home would be. When team doctors throughout the league learned that Jones had a brief history of trouble with the meniscus in his right knee, it sparked panic among NBA general managers. They shied away from a talent who just a year ago was projected to be a top 10 draft pick. It's the main reason Jones is with the Thunder today.
“Everybody knows that I wasn't supposed to slide as far as I did,” Jones said. “But, to be honest, I'm happy I did. This is a great organization. I mean, this is the perfect spot. I think everything happens for a reason, and these guys treat me like family. So I'm more excited to be here than anything.”
Jones confessed that he didn't think “in a million years” that he'd be playing for the Thunder. Just minutes before hearing his name called, he even thought his shocking slide would continue.
“Actually, on draft night when the pick came up for them, I was thinking to myself ‘Well, they don't need me, so they're definitely not going to pick me,'” Jones remembered. “So I'm definitely honored that they decided to pick me, and I'm definitely going to work my hardest for you guys.”
For now, Presti and Jones both say the knee is a nonissue.
“It was basically just a previous injury that he had prior to getting to Baylor,” Presti said. “He's played two years and been incredibly consistent with it. It's just something that we have to watch as we go forward. Like we talked about, if there's anything that comes up from it we'll be proactive. But going into the situation, we're thrilled and we're looking forward to having him compete this summer.”
Added Jones: “My knee's fine. It didn't affect me at Baylor. My knee is doing great.”
You'd have a hard time questioning anything else about Jones.
Highlight reels show the 6-11 forward doing things young men his size shouldn't be able to do. He dribbles like a guard, runs like a deer and jumps like he's got pogo sticks for legs.
But in his first public appearance in his new host city, Jones didn't try to win over the crowd by making claims about how his world-class athleticism would help the Thunder win games. Instead, he turned heads by talking about how hard he was willing to work to fit in.
“The hardest part is playing to the level of intensity that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook set,” Jones said. “They set a standard for working hard here. Definitely living up to their standard, you've got to be able to bring it every day. So just be in the gym a lot to try to stay up to par with them. Hopefully, I can help the team in any way shape or form.”
When peppered with questions about the lack of assertiveness he showed on the court in college, Jones simply turned the page and attempted to move past that chapter of his career by focusing on how he can improve now.
“I think I've got to play smart,” Jones said. “Definitely learn from the veterans. This is a time for me to learn, and I know these guys are going to help me be the best player (I can be) and use my assertiveness to the best of my abilities.”
Above all, Jones came off as appreciative.
He thanked everyone from his mother, Terri, to the fans in attendance at his news conference, to the Thunder organization for giving him an opportunity.
At times, Jones sounded like he was still in college, about to get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play pickup with his favorite players.
“My favorite part about the Thunder is they have fun but they play hard,” Jones said. “I think they're the most exciting team to watch. I'll pick their game over any other game any day.”
Asked how he could come in and contribute, Jones responded as if he was in awe of the roster.
“That's hard to say right now,” he said, “because the Thunder has everything.”
It's as if this goose doesn't get that he's golden.
“He's very humble,” explained Jones' agent, Bill Duffy. “He's had some challenging circumstances in his upbringing, so I don't think he takes anything for granted.
“He's just a really good person, and he's one who's going to definitely acclimate well to the organization and the culture here. In my mind, this is the perfect fit.”