Isaac Jones once loaded trucks. Now the Washington State star plays for Sweet 16 spot

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Five years ago, Isaac Jones was fresh out of high school and working 9-to-5 pulling industrial pipes from a storage yard and loading trucks for a company in the Seattle area.

“Same thing over and over again,” he said Friday.

Saturday night, Jones will be in the starting lineup for Washington State playing in the NCAA Tournament against Iowa State for a spot in the Sweet 16.

It's almost unfathomable how far Jones has come, from being a raw and undersized high school player who had no college offers to a 6-foot-9 first-team All-Pac-12 pick and the Cougars' leading scorer and rebounder in his one and only year with them.

Jones recorded Washington State's first double-double in an NCAA Tournament game when he had 20 points and 11 rebounds in the seventh-seeded Cougars’ 66-61 win over Drake on Thursday.

“It’s an unbelievable story," WSU assistant Jeremy Harden said. “What I tell everyone is he hasn’t taken any shortcuts. He’s been through the wringer.”

Jones gives much of the credit for his rise to Harden, who was his head coach for three years at Wenatchee Valley College, was on the staff at Idaho when he played for the Vandals last season and now is with him at WSU.

“From a development standpoint, he’s huge," Jones said. "In the area I grew up, I didn't have coaches to teach me or develop me. I didn’t play AAU. I didn’t know much. When I came to him, he taught me a lot about basketball and looked at my strengths. He knew I had soft hands and a long wingspan. Pushing me to my limit and not breaking me is what got me where I am today.”

Jones grew up in Spanaway, Washington, and went to high school in Orting. He was 5-foot-7 when he was a freshman and 6-4 when he was a senior. He was a good player on a bad team, and he figured his basketball days were over when he graduated.

He got a job at Puget Sound Pipe & Supply and fell into an unhealthy daily routine of going to work, going home and playing video games and overeating.

Meanwhile, one of his best friends, high school teammate Joseph Lowe, was looking for a place to play and cold-called Harden to see if a roster spot was open at Wenatchee Valley, about three hours east of Seattle. Harden said he asked Lowe if he knew anyone who stood 6-8 or 6-9, and if he did, both could join the team.

Lowe convinced Jones to come with him, even though Jones would have to get financial aid and take out loans to pay tuition and costs in the tens of thousands of dollars. But Jones said his mom wanted him to go to school, and Harden told him he could help develop him into a player worthy of a Division I scholarship.

First, Jones had to get in shape.

Harden's reaction when he met Jones: “He was 6-9, 275, real sloppy. But I noticed he had long arms, big hands and I thought: ‘Hey, I can work with this.’”

Harden put Jones through three workouts a day to get him in shape. It paid off. Jones lost 40 pounds and played three seasons at the junior college — he got an extra year because of the pandemic. He was named his conference's player of the year in 2022 after he averaged 25 points and 13 rebounds per game.

He dominated at Idaho last season and was named Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year, and WSU coach Kyle Smith was able to sign him to play a final season with the Cougars.

"I owe Joseph Lowe a lot,” Harden said, adding that Jones' buddy played all three years with him at Wenatchee Valley and now works in the insurance business.

Jones, the son of a pastor, said his journey was God's plan. Harden doubts it will be over after this season.

“No level has been too big for him yet,” he said. “I don't think the top professional level will be too big for him, either. He rises to the occasion everywhere he's been.”


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