Jonquel Jones: From Backyard To Arena, On The Rise In Connecticut

Jonquel Jones
Jessica Hill /Associated Press

Jonquel Jones has come a long way since learning to play basketball in the Bahamas and is now the new face of the Connecticut Sun.

The Connecticut Sun raised more than a few eyebrows at the 2016 WNBA Draft when they swapped their 2017 first round pick and rising guard Chelsea Gray to the Los Angeles Sparks for recently drafted Jonquel Jones, a 6-foot-6 pick from George Washington University.

The Sun knew they were giving up a lot, but on that day coach Curt Miller told the media that he was confident that Jones would be equal to or better than the top picks in 2017.

After a rookie season that showed a lot of potential, the Sun need Jones to be the player they are hoping for right away, as Chiney Ogwumike is lost for the season due to injury.

Jones is a special talent; she has range out to three-point line, impeccable shot blocking talent, and jumping ability hard to match. She also is a young player from the Bahamas, meaning that she is less experienced in the game of basketball than some of the players she will be competing against.

Jones’ journey to the WNBA began in the backyard of her grandmother’s house, on a court with family.

“It was just a family thing, playing basketball,” Jones explains, “because I would watch the older cousins and my uncles play, then I would start to play and it was just something that we all did. My uncle and my father put up the hoop.”

On the paved surface, about the size of a half court, Jonquel Jones fell in love with the game of basketball.

“My cousins and my family all played together, my grandmother had a basketball court in the backyard, and every weekend everyone would go to Grammy’s house and basketball was something that we did all day, every day.”

Jonquel Jones

Jones played because she loved the game, and even though she was not especially tall at the time, she hooked on with a local AAU team, that had a season of approximately eight games, she says, but also occasionally went to play teams in the United States.

“My AAU coach that I worked out with all the time, he would take us to Fort Lauderdale or different places in the U.S. to play basketball, and sometimes he would bring teams over in the summer to come and play us,” Jones explains. “Seeing how developed those girls were and how far behind we were I knew that something was off.  Ever since then I wanted to come over to the states play basketball.”

For two years Jones asked her mother for permission to leave Bahamas and go to school in the United States, to play basketball and master the game she loved.

In one of her games a player from Riverdale Baptist high school in Maryland suggested to coach Diane Richardson that Jones might be a good fit for the school and vice versa. Richardson spoke to Jones and her family several times, and suggested they come meet in person.

“She (Richardson) said come over and check out the school, check out my house and see if you like it, bring your family,” Jones explains. “So we went over there and I liked it and my family, my parents felt good about it. So I just went back home to the island packed up my stuff and returned to the states.”

Jones was 14 years old, her family was in the Bahamas, and she was under the guardianship of her coach, but she was thrilled by the opportunity, and gratefully acknowledges she is successful because of coach Richardson’s on and off the court tutelage.

“When the opportunity finally came I was really happy,” she said. “I was excited about it but I was extremely nervous. I just remember stepping off the flight and meeting coach Richardson for the first time and being so impressed with such an energetic, caring person who was there and helping me do everything. That is the reason that I’m here today.”

Jones says that she never imagined the WNBA would be a possible destination for her when she left the Bahamas to play, but she knew to be the best player she could be she had to leave.

“I knew basketball was not taken seriously on the island especially women’s basketball. We would play like eight games for an entire season, but when I came over here, I would have an opportunity to play basketball at the highest level.”

Jones also wanted to do something her father had not been able to, play in college. “My father had to work after high school so he had to give up his dream of playing basketball. Honestly if I had stayed home in the Bahamas I’m not sure I would be going to college. My parents didn’t have anything set up like a college fund, I probably would’ve had to work my way through college so basketball has definitely given me that too.”

Jones became only the third Bahamian woman to get a Division I basketball scholarship when she accepted George Washington’s offer. Conference player of the year and All-American honors followed, as she built an impressive resume before heading off to the WNBA Draft. There, the Sparks drafted her sixth overall. Connecticut then traded Chelsea Gray, the No. 15 and No. 23 picks in the 2016 WNBA Draft and Connecticut’s first round pick in 2017 for Jones and the No. 17 pick in 2016.

Such movement on such a big day would fluster a lot of young players, but while you can take Jones out of the Bahamas, you cannot take the laid back Bahamian attitude out of Jones. Her first thought? Cool, still on the east coast.

Brought along slowly, Jones averaged only 14 minutes per game last year, but it increased as the season moved on. Now, after a winter in Korea where she had an extremely successful season, she is back in Uncasville, with a large weight on her shoulders that does not seem to bother her.

“With Chiney being out I look at it as there’s an opportunity,” Jones says with a smile that rarely leaves her face. “We want Chiney here, we love her! Her productivity cannot be replaced but coach told me from the time he knew Chiney would be out that he expected me to step up take on a greater role. Just coming into that, I understand what it is and I’m going to come out with my best foot forward.”

The Sun has not made the playoffs in four years, and they are one of the youngest teams in the league. It would be easy for them to fall into the trap of using that as an excuse, and not being as disturbed by losses as they should be.

Jones says that is not the case in the Sun locker room. “I think it would be dangerous if we had people with that kind of mindset; that thought being a young team was an excuse for not winning. I don’t think we do, I think we understand. We love our fans and they are really loyal and really supportive. We don’t want them to have the kind of team that doesn’t care, we want to do more for them.”

Ogwumike is also very comfortable being the publicity machine for the organization. She is vivacious, attractive, and talkative. Jones has a laid back style, but is not shy. She chuckles when I call her the “Bahama Mamba.” She is ready to be the face of the Connecticut Sun off the court too.

More WNBA: Connecticut Sun 2017 Season Preview

“Being the face of the franchise, it’s cool with me. I’m easy to get along with and sociable so I don’t have any problems with that stuff.” Jones knows she needs to show it on the court though, adding “but I have to take everything in stride and not worry about what could happen and this focus on playing the game the right way and being productive on the court.”

Jones, along with fellow second year players Morgan Tuck, Rachel Banham, and Courtney Williams all had time to learn last year; Miller will need the youngsters to be veterans fast if his team is to end that playoff drought.

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