You couldn’t write a better storybook ending for Rylan Jones.

The former Olympus High star is back in his hometown, leading the scrappy Samford Bulldogs into battle against the longtime juggernaut Kansas Jayhawks in the NCAA Tournament’s first round Thursday at the Delta Center.

“Everybody knows that his heart is in the right spot, man. He’s all about our team doing well. His heart is team first. When you have a leader like, that everybody is going to kind of fall in line ... he’s been a joy to coach.”

—  Samford coach Bucky McMillan on Rylan Jones

“It’s kind of a dream come true to come back and play here a couple more times in Salt Lake City,” Jones told reporters Wednesday prior to Samford’s practice. “Obviously it’s home. It’s just a feeling, kind of a full-circle moment, honestly. I played four years in the state of Utah, probably played 95 college games here. I wouldn’t trade those times for anything.”

Jones began his college career at Utah, playing two seasons with the Runnin’ Utes before heading north to Logan to join the Aggies. Following two years there, he entered the portal once again and landed at Samford this past May, averaging 9.4 points and 4.9 assists in his senior year for the 29-5 Bulldogs.

“Going to Samford has been the best decision I ever made,” Jones said. “Love every second of it. For me to come back here and be able to play in the hometown with these guys, my brothers and my teammates, it’s a surreal feeling that I really can’t describe. I’m just happy and thankful to be here.”

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In addition to his family and friends being able to attend the tournament easily — Jones’ father claimed playing at the Delta Center saved him $10,000 in travel costs — Jones has embraced the opportunity to show his teammates around his old stomping grounds in Utah.

“I’m just happy that I get to be here and happy that I get to play with my brothers right here where I’m from,” Jones said. “I took them to one of my favorite restaurants, we went to Crown Burger on Highland Drive. Had to introduce them to Big Mike’s restaurant. I’m extremely lucky, extremely happy. My whole family’s happy that we get to play here.”

Samford’s unique brand of basketball has made the Bulldogs a trendy upset selection to knock off the injury-plagued Jayhawks in Thursday’s first round. For Jones, such a Cinderella performance, especially in his hometown, would be one of the more memorable final chapters to a college career in recent memory.

“So glad we got him,” Samford coach Bucky McMillan said. “Such a leader on the floor. He can do it all. I mean, obviously he has some great stats. I don’t think you can even measure his intangibles. Everybody knows that his heart is in the right spot, man. He’s all about our team doing well. His heart is team first. When you have a leader like, that everybody is going to kind of fall in line ... he’s been a joy to coach.”

Utah State guard Rylan Jones brings the ball up court during game against Colorado State in the quarterfinals of Mountain West Conference men's tournament Thursday, March 10, 2022, in Las Vegas. The former Utah Runnin' Ute and Utah State Aggie will lead his Samford Bulldogs against No. 4 Kansas in NCAA Tournament game at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press