As former women’s basketball star forward Jonquel Jones began her second WNBA season with the Connecticut Sun Saturday, her former GW teammate Caira Washington was just getting started in her professional career after completing training camp with the Washington Mystics.
The duo was among the most feared frontcourts in college basketball last season, and Washington said that Jones — the highest-ever draft pick out of GW — set a precedent for the rest of the program.
“[Seeing her get drafted] was such a fulfilling moment because I knew how hard she worked for that and what she had sacrificed to get there,” Washington said.
In the first game of Jones’ second year with the Sun, she scored eight points and a career-high 20 rebounds in 27 minutes of action Saturday – a jump from her average of 6.8 points and 3.7 rebounds during her first year.
As a Colonial, she won a pair of Atlantic 10 conference titles and made two consecutive NCAA appearances. Jones led the nation in rebounding her senior year with 14.6 boards per game and finished her career as one of just three players in program history with 1,000 points, 800 rebounds and 100 blocks.
Jones said she appreciated the relationships she formed with her teammates and coaches at GW and still values the experiences afforded to her during her three years on the team.
“I was able to cultivate a lot of friendships,” Jones said. “I just met so many different people that I still care about.”
When the Freeport, Bahamas native was selected as the sixth overall pick in the 2016 WNBA draft, she immediately thought about what her selection meant for not just GW, but her home country.
“Of course I was happy and excited, but I immediately thought about all the young girls back home in the Bahamas,” Jones said. “[Getting drafted] served as an example that night to all the little girls in my country that it’s possible, that they can realize their dreams.”
Serving as a role model for the youth of a small country can be exceedingly demanding. Jones said she can hardly walk the streets in the Bahamas anymore without being recognized, but it’s something she relishes.
“I definitely take that [role model] responsibility on,” Jones said. “I wasn’t just the highest pick of any player that had gone to GW, but also the highest draft pick from the Bahamas. So I’m happy to do it and put my best foot forward for my country.”
Jones has certainly taken a winding road on the way to her current spot as a forward for the Sun. Jones was a two-sport star as a child before choosing basketball over soccer and moving to the U.S., where she was a McDonald’s All-American nominee at Riverdale Baptist in Maryland.
Jones hit a bump in the road after her first year at Clemson, a program that was trending down and lacked competitiveness. It was then that former Colonials head coach Jonathan Tsipis first made an impression on Jones for his rigorous recruiting style and commitment to building the program.
“I could see the difference with what Tsipis was doing here and who he was recruiting. Not only athletically but academically,” Jones said. “GW is just a place where people go when they want to be successful.”
The 6-foot-6-inch forward has always possessed the ability to stretch the floor with her shooting touch and clog the lane with her length, but once at the WNBA level she said it was challenging at times for that to translate.
“The physicality is so much different [than in college],” Jones said. “Even though I have height I’m still a smaller post player, and that was something I struggled with. But you’re playing against the best in the world, and I think all rooks struggle in some form or fashion as part of the learning curve.”
Jones spent the offseason playing professionally in Korea, leading her Woori Bank team to the league title and earning the Foreign Most Valuable Player Award. But it was the cultural experience – and especially the cuisine – that she said she remembered most fondly.
“The food was amazing – I don’t think there was something that I tried that I didn’t like,” Jones said. “But the people are awesome, they actually reminded me of Bohemians because they want to take care of you and make sure you’re happy.”
The 13-hour time difference meant that the former GW star had few opportunities to watch the Colonials play, but that didn’t stop Jones from trying.
“I’d always try to catch a game in some way if I could,” Jones said. “I still talk to some of the girls on the team just to make sure they’re doing OK and staying motivated.”
Now, on the dawn of her second year, Jones can’t help but feel optimistic about the young core of her current team, which includes a nucleus of herself and fellow 2016 draft picks forward Morgan Tuck and guard Rachel Banham.
“We have so much energy and potential,” Jones said. “Even though we’re young, we think we’re capable of making the playoffs.”