Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

WNBA Feature: Jonquel Jones and the Connecticut Sun Have Risen Together in Her Second Pro Season

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)
WASHINGTON – After plopping down on a black leather chair courtside at the Verizon Center Friday night while being surrounded by a gaggle of reporters following her usual intense pregame warmup routine, Jonquel Jones marveled at her journey.
Her sinuous road is longer than the 1,093-mile distance between the Bahamas and Connecticut.

 Jones constructed her arduous path through determination, hard-work, and sacrifice to blossom into one of the elite players in the world.

"When I was in ninth grade, I remember coming here to watch the (Mystics),” said Jones, a second-year forward for the Connecticut Sun. “I remember watching one of my current teammates, Jasmine Thomas, play when I came down here. It’s actually fun to be playing in this gym. When I was walking out (onto the floor), whoever thought I would be playing on this court as many times as I’ve come here to watch games. I just never expected to be out here doing this.”

Mixing ferocity, fearlessness, and finesse, the 6-foot, 6 inch Jones leads the WNBA in rebounding (11.2 boards per game) and the Connecticut Sun in scoring (15.5 points per game). 
Jones made the first of what will probably be many Verizon WNBA All-Star appearances memorable by scoring a game-high 24 points. 

The centerpiece of her performance, which included a trio of 3-pointers and a nice behind-the-back dribble on a fastbreak, was an emphatic one-handed dunk that shook Key Arena to its core during last week’s showcase in Seattle. 
Maybe she should’ve also participated in the three-point shootout.
“It was good and the opportunity to (dunk) in an all-star game felt good,” Jones said. “I was excited that my first one happened on that kind of platform of the all-star game. I think our fans and organization deserved it so I was happy to do it. 
“I had a great time (at the All-Star game). My biggest takeaway is to just remember that this is a game. Even though we take it seriously and it’s our job, I think there’s a lot of bigger stuff happening out there in the world that when you’re playing basketball, you can play lightheartedly. Playing in the all-star game felt like that.”
Thomas is having a blast sharing the floor with Jones.
“It a great treat,” Thomas said. “She came into this season on fire from the beginning asserting herself as I am ready to be a starting center and an impact player in this league. She’s been consistent and a double-double machine. She’s extremely versatile and shooting the three more. She’s playing really well.”
Unfortunately, fans at the Verizon Center didn’t get a chance to see anybody showcase their skills Friday night. 
The first place showdown between the Sun and Washington Mystics was postponed shortly after 8 p.m. due to potentially unsafe playing conditions on the floor the result of a leak in the roof caused by the heavy rain that hit the nation’s capital. 

The game between the pair of 13-9 teams will be rescheduled at a later date.
“Disappointed for both teams and there was a great crowd out there,'” Connecticut coach Curt Miller said. “Would have been an incredible environment. First place on the line in the East with two teams that have tons of talent. 

“Disappointed, but thankful they put the players' safety first. That's the biggest thing. They couldn't truly guarantee the players' safety. I give them a lot of credit for making the difficult decision to call the game. It's not an easy decision, but really appreciate that the players' safety is always first.”
Jones had lots of fans in attendance. The 23-year-old Capricorn greeted them postgame wearing an olive-green dress and a blue denim jacket following a truncated appearance in her game uniform.
They are no doubt proud of the growth in her game from her rookie season in which she averaged 6.8 points per game and 3.1 rebounds in 14.1 minutes. She’s one of the leading (if not only) candidate for the WNBA’s Most Improved honor, a forecast made by the league general managers as part of their annual preseason survey. 
Jones endured growing pains last season as she adjusted to the rigors of playing professionally after an awesome career at George Washington University near here in which she led the nation in rebounding her senior season. 
 But after navigating the learning curve of her rookie debut,  Jone has become a jewel of diamond stature, one of several reasons Connecticut is finally back on the upswing to where the Sun had been one of the top teams after its move from Orlando (formerly the Miracle) in 2003. 
“Last year was tough,” Jones admitted. “I don’t think people really didn’t say things positively and it wasn’t coming from a genuine place so for me it was hard but I know that everybody who is talking to me now truly care and they want me to succeed so that I can do my best and the team can do their best.

 “When it’s like that, it’s easy. I try to take it all in stride and try to internalize everything and try to do it on the on the court.”
This season, Jones has been a powerful force and a leader. 
She is one of three players in WNBA history (Charles and Sylvia Fowles) to collect multiple 20-rebound games in the same season. She was also the 13th player in league history to record a 20-20 game when she scored 23 points to go with her 21 rebounds against the Chicago Sky.
Jones has scored in double figures 18 times, posted 14 double-figure rebounding games and recorded 12 double-doubles. She has a legit shot of challenging the WNBA single-season record of 398 rebounds set by Tina Charles as a rookie with the Sun in 2010. Jones has 246.
“In terms of being a great rebounder, it’s just being proactive and trying to do your work early so when the ball comes off the rim that you’re in the best position possible to grab it,” Jones said. “I try to do it because I know my team needs me to do it. 

“I am happy to do that and because everybody on the team understands their role and what they bring to the table. That’s one of my roles. I just try to do that every night.”
While Thomas enjoys watching Jones dominate the backboards, she believes there’s another offensive weapon that her teammate can demonstrate on a more consistent basis after watching her throw down a one-handed dunk last week. 
“She’s definitely a player capable of dunking as part of her game,” Thomas said smiling. “We see her do it or try to do it many times in practice. This was the cleanest that she got above the rim. I think it was the adrenaline and energy. I told she has to try it in games now.”
Pun intended here, but like Jones, the Sun have shined and soared to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Since beginning the season at 1-5 overall, the Sun have posted a 12-4 record to move closer to its first playoff appearance since 2013. 
Jones is just one piece of the Sun machine that also features fellow All-Star Alyssa Thomas, who has scored in double figures 16 times after dropping 20 against the Chicago Sky earlier in the week, and Courtney Williams, who is shooting 50.6 percent over the Sun’s last seven games. 
With eight of its next nine games at home beginning Sunday against Indiana at 3 p.m., the Sun are in a prime position to create some separation in the standings. Of course with that many home games over the next month, that means Jones has one major to-do item on her agenda.
“To be able to be home in August, I think this is the first time, I’ve been able to stock my fridge this season because we’ve been on the road so much,” Jones said. “The fans deserve it and it’s going to be good to play in front of them.”
While the individual accolades are nice, Jones understands that her story is far from finished. She still has many more miles to travel. Jones knows that there’s only one set of directions for success.
“I just want to work hard and I think when I work hard all that stuff will ultimately come together,” Jones said. “I just try to get better every year. Like I said last week at All-Star, if that means in my prime that I am the best in the world at some point then I’ll take that. If not, it is what it is but I know I am giving it my all.”