“She didn’t care where I was going, she just wanted to come,” said McPhee-McCuin, who played at Florida Atlantic and Rhode Island. “She just wanted that opportunity.”
Jones got her chance three years ago when she moved in with Riverdale Baptist Coach Diane Richardson, who became her legal guardian. Touted on the team’s Web site as a female Kevin Durant, Jones has developed into one of the best players in the Washington area, a smooth and lanky guard-forward who has earned a scholarship to Clemson, where she will play for McPhee-McCuin, one of the Tigers’ assistants.
But Jones’s most lasting basketball accomplishment could come this week. She and her Riverdale team, top-ranked in The Post and No. 6 in USA Today, traveled to the Bahamas as a special entrant in an annual tournament there that began Wednesday.
As a 6-foot-3 billboard for what serious basketball training can do for a Bahamian girl, Jones is in a position to perhaps fundamentally alter the sport she loves, in the country she loves, with the help of a bunch of teammates she loves, girls who accepted her as one of their own three years ago when she arrived in Upper Marlboro with tattered sneakers and an unvarnished game.
“I’m excited for [Bahamians] to really see the top-notch talent in the United States and see what they should strive for and what they could look forward to sending their kids to,” said Jones, whose smile is as sneaky quick as her speaking cadence. “There’s going to be a lot of jaws dropping to see everybody coming together collectively on a team with such good chemistry.”
Jones is already something of a celebrity in Freeport, Grand Bahamas.
“This is epic,” said McPhee-McCuin, who has run camps in the Bahamas that have attracted 80 boys’ basketball players but only 20 girls. “Jonquel has the chance to be better than all of us. She has an opportunity to do some really big things for the Bahamas, herself and her family.”
“I am happy that Riverdale is coming here to maybe make our politicians and leaders in our country understand that these young ladies can go places if we give them the opportunity,” said tournament director Gladstone McPhee, a pioneering girls’ coach on the islands and father of Yolett. “It will be game-changing.”
A Bahamian pioneer
Jones, who averages a team-high 12.5 points and 16 rebounds for the 25-2 Crusaders, is believed to be just the third Bahamian female to earn a Division I scholarship directly out of high school, after McPhee-McCuin and Waltiea Rolle, a junior center at the University of North Carolina.
McPhee-McCuin stayed on the islands for high school but gained exposure through playing one year of AAU ball in the United States. Rolle attended high school in Houston.