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For former Runnin’ Ute Rylan Jones, transferring to instate rival Utah State came down to one thing

Former two-time Deseret News’ Mr. Basketball speaks publicly for the first time about his decision to transfer from Utah to Utah State

Utah State guard Rylan Jones dribbles the ball during a Powder League game at American Preparatory Academy in Draper, Utah.
Utah State guard Rylan Jones dribbles the ball during a Powder League game at American Preparatory Academy in Draper on Friday, June 25, 2021.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Rylan Jones followed his heart all the way back to Logan.

Speaking publicly for the first time since he announced May 10 that he was leaving the University of Utah for Utah State, the point guard told the Deseret News last week that he went with his “gut feeling” in deciding to transfer within the state.

“I thought about it for a long time, and it just kinda came to me that I should go back to the place I would consider my hometown, and it just felt right,” Jones said after a standout performance in a Powder League summer pro-am game last week.

Jones said the fact that new Utes coach Craig Smith, who was hired on March 27 to replace the fired Larry Krystkowiak, didn’t retain his father as the school’s director of basketball operations had nothing to do with his decision to leave.

“I mean, my dad (Chris Jones) and I have been together my whole life,” Rylan said. “He’s my best friend. I am his best friend. But you know, sometimes best friends have got to part ways, and we made peace with that.”

Chris Jones is the new boys basketball coach at Highland High in Salt Lake City.

“I am very lucky to have been with my dad my whole life, and have him coaching me,” Jones said. “But it is what it is, and he is coaching at Highland and hopefully going to help them become a powerhouse in the state, and I am going to Utah State to help us continue what we’ve got going up there.”

Rylan Jones said he went through “a month of practice” with the Utes after Smith was hired and praised the former USU and South Dakota coach and two of his new assistants, Eric Peterson and DeMarlo Slocum, saying, “I loved those guys and I loved it, honestly, it was a fun month.”

But after “doing a lot of thinking,” he said he made the decision to enter the transfer portal on May 7.

Staying at Utah, where he was a major contributor for two seasons before a shoulder injury cut short his sophomore year with eight games remaining “just didn’t feel right to me,” he said.

On May 10, three days after entering the transfer portal and a day after a 90-minute telephone conversation with new USU coach Ryan Odom — Smith’s replacement in Logan — Jones announced he was transferring to Utah State. His move completed a trade, of sorts, because USU point guard Rollie Worster transferred to Utah on April 15.

Rylan Jones, left, and Zac Seljaas shake hands during a Powder League basketball game at American Preparatory Academy.
Utah State guard Rylan Jones, left, and former BYU player Zac Seljaas shake hands during a Powder League basketball game at American Preparatory Academy in Draper on Friday, June 25, 2021.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

While in the portal, “I talked to a couple of schools,” Jones said, declining to divulge an exact number. “I don’t want to name anybody. But I made my decision kinda quick. It just felt right. I went with my gut and I did it.”

Rylan Jones grew up in Logan, living there from the first grade to the end of his freshman year of high school while Chris Jones was an assistant coach at USU.

“Utah State was my dream school to play at growing up,” Rylan said. “I spent a lot of nights in the Spectrum watching players like Spencer Butterfield, Danny Berger, guys like that. Those are my idols, and now I am an Aggie, too.”

Jones moved to Logan about three weeks ago, and is living in a townhouse four minutes from the home in which he grew up.

“If feels nice to be home,” he said.

Jones said it will be “cool” to play for a coach’s son. Ryan Odom’s father, Dave Odom, was the head coach at East Carolina, Wake Forest and South Carolina.

“We come from very similar backgrounds,” Jones said. “He lived in the gym while his dad coached, and I am the same way. I lived in the gym at Utah and Utah State. And we just bonded. We basically had the same life. I have loved talking to him. Obviously, he is very smart. So it has been good.”

Another factor that played a role in Jones’ decision were the transfers of Ute stars such as Timmy Allen, Pelle Larsson, Alfonso Plummer and Ian Martinez. Of course, Smith bringing Worster with him signaled a likely decrease in Jones’ playing time.

Graduate transfer Marco Anthony is also leaving Utah State for Utah.

“Obviously, it hurts to see your teammates go, guys you have bonded with,” Jones said. “I spent two hard years with them. We grew up together. We lived together. So yeah, that is obviously tough.

UCLA Bruins forward Cody Riley (2) attempts to get up while Utah Utes forward Mikael Jantunen (20) and guard Rylan Jones (15) go for the ball at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.
UCLA Bruins forward Cody Riley (2) attempts to get up while Utah Utes forward Mikael Jantunen (20) and guard Rylan Jones (15) go for the ball at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

“But the transfer portal has made that a new thing,” he continued. “Everybody has turnover now. It is something that we are all going to have to get used to. It definitely didn’t help that some of my friends were gone.”

Jones was a two-time winner of the Deseret News’ Mr. Basketball award and the Utah Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018 while leading Olympus High to the 5A state championship.

At Utah, he started 43 games. As a freshman he averaged 9.6 points, 4.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game. As a sophomore, his numbers dipped to 4.4 points, 1.8 rebounds and 4.0 assists as his playing time decreased even before the injury.