Ty Jerome caught the pass, quickly went to his right, shaking a defender at the top of the key, and hoisted a floater in the lane. The ball sailed through the net, giving him his first career NBA points in the third quarter of a December game against the Charlotte Hornets.
Jerome’s outing came after missing the first 18 games of the season with an injured ankle.
“It was really, really cool, especially coming off injury,” Jerome said. “It was another obstacle I had to overcome.”
For Jerome, the moment felt special.
He scored his first career points in an NBA game, and it was in an arena that represented another obstacle in Jerome’s basketball career.
“It was the same arena we lost to UMBC in, so just kind of all coming together,” Jerome said. “It was a really cool story to tell.”
The former UVa star logged 12 minutes in his NBA debut and scored four points to go with four assists and three steals.
Before the NBA season was postponed, Jerome played in 28 games and averaged 3.5 points in just over 11 minutes per contest for the Phoenix Suns. He scored a season-high 15 points in a December loss to Houston.
Taking the floor in an NBA game for the first time sparked emotions in Jerome as he achieved a lifelong dream.
“It’s just all the hard work you put in,” Jerome said. “Your whole life, you have the NBA in the back of your mind.”
After breaking into the league, however, Jerome quickly switched gears and went from a player stoked to have fulfilled his goals to an unproven rookie striving for more.
“Really cool moments, scored my first basket, playing in my first games and then the focus kind of shifts from, ‘OK now you’re here, how do I last for a long time and have an impact at this level?’” Jerome said.
Only logging about 10 minutes a game made it tough for those following the NBA to know what type of impact Jerome can make at the professional level. With Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker logging most of the minutes in the backcourt, Jerome was left to compete for backup point guard minutes.
Next season’s minutes are a mystery, but Jerome remains an option for the Suns’ backup point guard role. If he develops the way the franchise hopes, he could find himself logging consistent minutes for a team led by a young star in Booker.
“I think I could be a guy that can play off a star really well, being able to spread the floor for him, take pressure off him with the ball and just being a leader and a winner,” Jerome said. “I’ve been a winner all my life, and I’m gonna find that situation where I can really be a winner.”
Jerome has enjoyed a close view of the talent Booker possesses. The Suns’ shooting guard ranked 10th in the NBA in scoring at 26.1 points per game when the season came to a halt. He ranked just ahead of LeBron James.
Booker, who is in his fifth year in the NBA, is yet to have a winning season, and the Suns were 26-39 when the season was postponed. Booker has been open about wanting to win more and hoping to lead the team to winning records.
Jerome watches on a near-daily basis as Booker works to get the Suns to the next level. The rookie says he uses Booker as a model for how to go about his business in the NBA.
“That dude, he hasn’t won yet,” Jerome said. “I’m seeing a motivated Devin Booker for the first time like, really, really, really trying to win, so that’s been awesome to see.”
As far as what he’s learned on the court, Jerome says there’s a misconception about the NBA regular season. Some fans don’t watch until the playoffs and others joke that the league doesn’t really begin until postseason play.
Jerome doesn’t agree.
“It’s constantly going,” Jerome said. “People think the NBA is kind of just casual until the playoffs or until later in the season and that couldn’t be more of a miss. Most of these guys, they’re just truly competitors, and they wouldn’t be here and they wouldn’t be as good as they are if they weren’t.”
For Jerome, a crafty guard who doesn’t jump out of the gym or overpower guards with his strength, he’s made an effort to stay locked in every possession he’s on the court.
At one point in his rookie season, Jerome even found himself matched up with LeBron James in the post. He held his ground until a teammate came over to double James and force a pass. Jerome scored nine points in the loss to the Lakers.
“The elite are so much better than people realize,” Jerome said. “So a person like me who’s not super athletic, you play 82 games and you play almost every day or every other day, the second you drop your competitive edge, you’re gonna get killed.”
Luckily for Jerome, his edge didn’t dip against James. As his career progresses, Jerome hopes to make his mark on the league he dreamed of playing in since he was a kid.
When it comes to future goals and what he plans to bring to his team, the rookie out of UVa wants to fill the role he embraced his senior year at Virginia.
“Just being a leader, a competitor and a winner,” Jerome said.