Lance Jones, Dakota Mathias forming Purdue connection on Pacers' Summer League squad (2024)

INDIANAPOLIS -- Dakota Mathias and Lance Jones are at very different points on what may end up being close to the same journey, but they have a bond over where they started.

Mathias was long gone from Purdue by the time Jones arrived. Mathias played four years with the Boilermakers from 2014-18 and Jones spent just this past season there after playing his first four years at Southern Illinois. Jones had heard of Mathias' contributions to two Sweet 16 teams but had never met him. However, like all Purdue alumni, Mathias was enthralled with Jones' Boilermaker squad that became the first since 1980 to reach the Final Four before losing to Connecticut in the national championship game, so he's pleased to team up with him as part of the Pacers' squad for the NBA Summer League.

"Anybody that went to Purdue, you're familiar with each other," Mathias said. "Especially the run they had this year. He's feeling pretty good about himself and we're glad that he was a Boilermaker this year."

Five years after his stint as a Boilermaker ended with 1,140 career points and 250 career 3-pointers, Mathias is pleased to be getting another shot with an NBA team, though a Summer League roster spot doesn't guarantee even a G League spot come the fall much less an NBA job. He spent all of last year with Germany's Ratiopharm Ulm, averaging 13.3 points per game across Bundesliga, German Cup and Eurocup play. He knocked down 40 of 97 3-point attempt (41.2%) proving he can still be a threat from distance a professional.

The Pacers' Summer League squad gets him back in the U.S.. It's his fourth Summer League opportunity as he's previously participated in the event with the Cavaliers, Lakers, Jazz and Grizzlies. He's been through training camp with Dallas and Philadelphia and played a combined 14 NBA games with the 76ers and Grizzlies. He's also had G League stints with the Texas Legends (Mavericks affiliate) and Memphis Hustle (Grizzlies.)

"At the end of the day, every offseason, you're a free agent and the goal is to get back to the NBA," Mathias said. "I talked to my agent and it seemed like a good opportunity here. Obviously, living down the road, I'm familiar with all the players, faces, the organization. It's good to be a part of it."

Mathias' best hope for the opportunity with the Pacers may be to end up with the Mad Ants, but considering they operate using similar concepts to the Pacers and workout in the same facility, it should serve his game well. The Pacers played a wide-open uptempo game with few set plays and turned that style into the top-scoring offense in the NBA, leading the league in not only scoring but assists and field goal percentage.

"It's read-and-react," Mathias said. "Free-flowing, use your IQ. Shoot the ball, things like that. You know how they play, especially this year, you see uptempo pace. A lot of 3s, a lot of dribble-drive The style of play is a good opportunity. Hopefully we get going out in Vegas."

Jones is just starting his professional basketball journey, but like Mathias he went undrafted and could find himself having to chase the game down a similar path. Still, he was thrilled the day after the draft to learn that the Pacers had interest in giving him a Summer League opportunity that would allow him to start his career close to where he went to school.

Jones said he attended former teammate Zach Edey's draft party in West Lafayette and watched the Grizzlies take him No. 9 overall. When he returned back to his home in Evanston, Ill., he had a call from his agent saying the Pacers were interested.

"I was excited because this is like a second home to me," Jones said. "I just couldn't wait to get going."

Like Mathias, Jones sees a role for himself that will be natural for him to fill. The Pacers have focused their defense on picking up full-court and though they weren't nearly as good on that end of the floor as they were on offense, they had some success during their Eastern Conference finals run in large part because of that on-ball pressure. Jones was recruited at Purdue as a transfer because the Boilermakers desperately needed an athletic perimeter defender and he provided one, averaging 1.3 steals per game and helping the Boilermakers finish 12th in Division I in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Jones was also a good fit for the Boilermakers on offense, averaging 11.7 points per game and shooting 35.7% from 3-point range. He thinks he can be valuable on that end by playing smart and hitting open shots.

"I was a jammer at Purdue, so having to pick up full-court here is something I'm used to," Jones said. "(I want to show) that I belong. I want to bring my defensive presence, I want to make the right plays and mostly just be a good teammate, do whatever I can to help my teammates be better."

LIke Mathias, Jones will start out with an uphill climb to get an NBA roster spot and might have to settle for a G League opportunity, but he's got his sights set on doing as much as he can to get his foot in the door.

"On somebody's roster," Jones said when asked where he hoped it would be when Summer League was over. "I'm just trying to do whatever I can to help the team win and if that comes with a contract, I'll be blessed. I'm going to shoot for the stars."

For however much time they're together, Mathias and Jones get to make a Boilermaker bond across generations, and talk about the coach who molded them -- Matt Painter. Mathias said that was the reason he was most thrilled to see Jones and his teammates in the Final Four.

"Coach Paint deserves it more than anyone," Mathias said. "He does things the right way. He's done that his whole career. For them to break through like they did and the kind of guys they have, just, they're all Purdue people, tough, hard-working blue-collar guys. I was really proud of them and the coaching staff."

Lance Jones, Dakota Mathias forming Purdue connection on Pacers' Summer League squad (2024)
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