George Washington women’s basketball player Jonquel Jones had not shot particularly well in the Colonials’ first game this month, so Coach Jonathan Tsipis instructed the senior center to review video of her performance on her own. Her response was illustrative of why she could break through as a lottery pick in April’s WNBA draft.
Tsipis pointed out a handful of instances where the reigning Atlantic 10 player of the year and defensive player of the year could have made better decisions, such as when she stepped back to shoot, inadvertently bumping defenders behind her, instead of catching and immediately releasing the ball.
The day after watching tape of the 70-45 win against Saint Joseph’s in which she missed 11 of 18 shots, Jones wanted to go over her miscues again, this time with Tsipis in his office. The additional coaching helped yield 19 points on 6-for-9 shooting with 17 rebounds in the Colonials’ next game, a 68-58 victory over Rhode Island at Smith Center.
“I just love that learning curve about her,” said Tsipis, last season’s Atlantic 10 coach of the year who as an assistant at Notre Dame helped tutor several all-Americans, including Skylar Diggins, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2013 WNBA draft. “She’s a basketball junkie.”
Since 2011, only one college basketball player from outside the five major conferences, Elena Delle Donne of Delaware in 2013, has been taken within the first four picks of the WNBA draft. But Jones could be in line to do so as well, according to several women’s basketball analysts, including ESPN’s Debbie Antonelli and Kara Lawson. The 6-foot-4 senior leads GW with 17.1 points per game and ranks first in the nation in rebounding (15.2 per game). Her most recent performance — 13 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks in Wednesday's 83-59 victory over visiting La Salle — gave her 14 double-doubles this season, also tops in Division I.
But the 2012 Washington Post All-Met Player of the Year at Riverdale Baptist has indicated the next 2 1/2 months are much more about getting the defending conference champions back into the NCAA tournament rather than her potential draft position.
GW (14-3, 4-0) is in a three-way tie atop the Atlantic 10 with St. Bonaventure (15-2 overall) and Duquesne (16-1), which will host the Colonials on Saturday for an early edge in the race for the regular season conference title.
“People who say they don’t think about it would be lying, if you’ve been playing all your life,” Jones said of turning pro. “I definitely think about it, but I don’t let it control much of what I’m doing here right now. I just try to focus on this, so that’s it.”
Jones arrived in Foggy Bottom following one season at Clemson. She picked the Tigers in large part because of her connection with then-assistant Yolett McPhee-McCuin, the first Bahamian female to sign a letter-of-intent to a Division I school.
Jones was born in Freeport, Bahamas, and often worked out with McPhee-McCuin, who played at Florida Atlantic and Rhode Island. On trips back to the Bahamas, McPhee-McCuin would tell Jones, then a promising youth league player, about the higher caliber of competition in the United States, not to mention more attentive coaching.
Jones learned about Riverdale Baptist through a friend who attended the school as part of an exchange program. She initially visited and eventually moved in with Diane Richardson, the Crusaders’ coach at the time. When McPhee-McCuin left Clemson in 2013 to take over at Jacksonville, Jones chose to reunite with her former high school coach, who’s been a Colonials assistant since 2012.
The decision made all the more sense given Lauren Chase, one of Jones’s teammates and closest friends at Riverdale Baptist, had transferred to GW after two seasons at Maryland-Baltimore County.
“I remember her walking into the gym when she was in 10th grade and just being this very shy person,” said Chase, a three-time honorable mention All-Met. “But just to see her growth, she’s the most outgoing person now, and as a player, in 10th grade she didn’t even play that much. She was at the end of the bench, but she’s one of hardest workers I know.”
Jones’s most notable accomplishments at GW include becoming the third player in school history with 1,000 points, 800 rebounds and 100 blocks. She is fourth all-time in rebounding (868) and is within reach of Darlene Saar’s career record of 1,129 set from 1992 to ’95.
This season Jones set the GW single-game record for rebounds, grabbing 26 during an 81-77 double-overtime win against then-No. 25 Iowa on Nov. 27 at the Lone Star Showcase in Cedar Park, Tex. That was part of a three-game stretch in which she recorded two 20-20 games and totaled 61 points, 66 rebounds and 11 blocks. She is also a capable outside shooter, leading the Colonials with 17 three-point baskets and making 40.5 percent of her attempts from beyond the arc.
“It definitely played out the way that I thought it would,” Jones said of coming to GW. “I mean obviously there’s certain things you can’t predict, but just to be here with one of my high school teammates, my old high school coach is definitely a blessing, and all my friends from Riverdale can come back and watch me play. I love being back in the D.C. area. It’s definitely a second home to me.”