BURNABY — Jessica Jones always believed she had what it took to become the kind of player and leader positioned at the very core of the Simon Fraser women’s basketball team.
Now, four seasons into her collegiate career with the Clan, that’s precisely where the redshirt junior from Richmond’s R.A. McMath Secondary finds herself.
Sitting amongst the top 25 on six different Great Northwest Athletic Conference statistical leaderboards, highlighted by fifth in scoring average (14.5 ppg) and second in made three-pointers per game (2.5), the 5-foot-9 guard has been a catalyzing force in helping the Clan to a share of third place (7-3) at the midway mark of the regular season with rival Western Washington.
But what’s been at the very core of a breakthrough season?
Why, her core, of course.
“I didn’t realize it was an issue until I came to SFU, it was not something that I thought of as a weakness,” Jones said Tuesday during a break between classes and just ahead of practice for Thursday’s 7 p.m. home clash against the Western Oregon Wolves (2-8). “So I’ve been working with a lot of different people.”
Known primarily for her artist’s quality three-point shooting stroke coming out of high school, Jones’ commitment to core strength development both in team practices with the training principles employed by noted physiotherapist and former Clan guard Dani Langford, and individually with former UNLV star and UBC head coach Misty Thomas, and marathoner Debbie Suzuki, have given her a rock-steady equilibrium which has branched out to all other parts of her game.
“She’s always been competitive, but she really fought some balance issues,” begins Simon Fraser head coach Bruce Langford, who has seen Jones expand her game into so many new areas since her arrival atop Burnaby Mountain.
“She certainly has added to her game in terms of her driving, and that pop-back shot she takes in the middle of the lane,” Langford continues. “But as well, her understanding and her IQ have really developed. She’s improved defensively, and more so this year than any year.
For Langford, a big part of the equation is the redshirt season he was able to give both Jones, and fellow junior forward Claudia Hart back in the fall of 2016.
That season, as part of a vaunted quintet of incomers Langford called his “most talented recruiting class in my time at SFU,” Jones and Hart were joined by guards Tayler Drynan, Ozi Nwabuko and Tia Tsang.
Tsang eventually decided to leave the program, and Nwabuko lost her sophomore campaign to a knee injury, and thus starting point guard Drynan is the team’s lone senior this season.
Yet as Langford welcomed that incoming class in 2016 for what would be the program’s seventh NCAA season, he had begun to form some beliefs in what it took to compete at the top of the conference, year in and year out.
“I said ‘We won’t be good until we get to the point where we red-shirt good players,’” Langford recalled Tuesday.
In the case of Jones, it fit the bill in so many ways because veterans Ellen Kett and Elisa Homer were an ensconced duo, and as good a guard pairing as the program has seen.
“Jessica is very academic,” Langford began, “so she could just focus on that and not have to worry about things like scouting reports and how she was performing.”
Jones has come to value that time in her life, appreciating the foundation it helped set for the rest of her Clan career, both on the court, and in the classroom as a criminology major.
At the time, however, it was not how she saw things.
“ It was really tough being a big part of things at McMath but then to come here and not play games was a big adjustment,” she begins. “But looking back on it, it helped me improve in so many ways, mostly my confidence. I learned our plays inside-out, got to know my new teammates, and since I wasn’t traveling, I got used to university academic life.”
And it certainly didn’t put any rust on her offensive prowess.
Earlier this season, over a five-game span, Jones hit for 24 points against UC San Diego, 30 against Hawaii Pacific and 32 against Colorado Springs.
“She can just catch fire,” says Langford. “She is the kind of player who can be 0-for-7 and we will still run a three-point play for her to win the game. She used to dwell on her mistakes when she was younger and now, she is able to shoot herself out of a slump.”
Langford knows what he’s talking about because he has been watching Jones for a very long time.
“The first time I saw her, she was in Grade 7 at our Penticton camp,” the coach remembers fondly. “Even back then, I really liked her listening ability, her focus and her desire to be better.”
For Jones, stories like that just cement her own belief that she is lacing up her sneakers at the place she was meant to play.
“It’s funny that he brought that up,” Jones chuckles of summer basketball camp. “I was just going through some old photos from Grade 7 and there were some of me with SFU players who are now alums, like Rebecca Langmead and Kristina Collins. It’s really neat because it’s come full circle. I now coach and help out at the camps here.”
Stronger and better than ever, Jessica Jones is the heart-and-core player she always believed she could be.
(Following Thursday’s game, the Clan women are back on home court Saturday for a 7 p.m. tip against Portland’s Concordia Cavaliers (2-8)).
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