By Marc Pruitt
The confidence in Jalen Cone’s voice is as undeniable as his humility.
Cone, a 5-10 sophomore at Walkertown, has enjoyed a prolific season on the floor for the Wolfpack where both the team and Cone have reached new highs—and not just because of the two inches he has grown since last season.
The Wolfpack won a school-record 18 games this season and captured the Western Piedmont 2-A Conference Tournament championship for the first time in school history.
Cone has done his part by averaging 34.2 points per game and 6 assists per game. He was named as the Conference Player of the Year and eclipsed the 1,000-point career scoring mark this season.
In December, Cone also broke the single tournament scoring record at the Frank Spencer Holiday Classic after amassing 107 points in three games. That broke the previous record of 104 points by Tyler Lewis, who played at Forsyth Country Day and then at N.C. State and Butler. Lewis broke the record that Chris Paul, the former start at West Forsyth who is now playing in his 13th NBA season, had established seven years earlier.
That’s pretty good company to be in.
“I’m definitely more mature as a player this season,” Cone said. “I think my jump shot has improved a lot, especially my 3-point shot. It was pretty good last season, but I really feel confident when it leaves my hands this year. It was just a matter of being in the gym a lot during the offseason and putting the work in. I’m still not where I need to be yet, but I’ll keep working to get there.”
Cone said his success can be directly attributed to the drive instilled in him by his parents and siblings.
His father, Harold, played college basketball at UNC Greensboro and is a basketball trainer in the Triad. His oldest brother, Drew, had a standout career at East Forsyth and now plays for Guilford Tech. His other brother, Madison, starred on the hardwood and on the gridiron at East. He currently plays college football for Wisconsin, which won the Orange Bowl in January.
“My dad has always pushed me and gives me the perspective of knowing what it takes to get to the level he played at,” Cone said. “He has always encouraged me to exceed expectations and get past where he was as a player. And my two brothers told me to not follow in their footsteps, but to be greater than them. They’ve always pushed me to be better. They were always making me tougher mentally and physically just from competing with them and against them in various things. By watching them become so successful, it has made me want to succeed even more.”
Cone’s sister, Joy, is a freshman at Walkertown. She recently completed her first year of playing varsity basketball.
“My mom (Alicia) and my sister are my biggest supporters on the sidelines,” Cone said. “And I had a lot of fun watching her play and do pretty good this season. I can see that hunger in her that we all have to get better. Having her around is definitely better this year than not having her around last year. It’s fun when we see each other in between classes or being with each other at lunch.”
Cone enjoys the role he has played in helping to establish a winning program at Walkertown since Coach Kevin Thompson took over the program two seasons ago.
Despite the Wolfpack’s exit from the 2-A state tournament after a loss to Forest Hills Thursday, Cone—who scored 51 points and had seven assists– reflected on all the positives the team accomplished this season.
“The best part of this season was just being a part of a winning team,” Cone said. “Our school wasn’t used to winning a lot. We were always near the bottom of the totem pole. But we’ve come together, and it’s been special with this group of guys to win these games. We have a huge sense of brotherhood between the players in our locker room and our coaches. To see this unfold this season has been joyful to me, because we’ve put the work in to make it happen.”
Basketball doesn’t stop for the Cones.
Cone will go right into travel ball with Team Loaded 17 & under once his high school season is over, playing up an age division in hopes of growing his game even more.
“Playing up during travel ball will make me mentally and physically stronger,” Cone said. “I need to still get better at every aspect of the game. Playing against older guys will help my game a lot. That will prepare me a great deal for next season.”