Stanford’s Haley Jones Brings Final Four Experience To USA AmeriCup Trials
With the depth and balance the Stanford women’s basketball team had this season, it could be easy to overlook the star quality of certain players.
But when the Cardinal made it to the Final Four, the ball seemed to find its way into the hands of Haley Jones — and she more than met the moment.
First Jones hit the go-ahead jumper with 32 seconds left in Stanford’s 66-65 win over South Carolina in the national semifinals. Then she scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a 54-53 victory over Arizona to give the Cardinal their first national championship since 1992. Jones was named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, as much for her 41 points in the two Final Four games as for her calm leadership on the floor.
“I think I’m pretty level-headed,” said Jones, a 6-foot guard. “There definitely was some urgency in the Final Four that I tried not to let affect me. I try to let the game come to me and see what’s happening. In the South Carolina and Arizona games, the ball was in my hands a lot in different situations.
“I had mismatches,” she continued. “I had bigger girls guiding me against South Carolina, so I feel like I was shooting more on the perimeter, and I was driving to the hoop a lot more and handling. In the Arizona game, I ended up having to handle it towards the end, but I had a smaller defender on me, so I was able to get into the post more.”
While still finishing up classes in her sophomore year at Stanford, Jones is now one of 20 players in Columbia, South Carolina, for the USA Basketball Women’s AmeriCup Team trials. The U.S. will be one of 10 nations competing in the June 11-19 AmeriCup in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The top four teams there will advance in the qualifying process for the Olympic Games Paris 2024.
Coincidentally, the two coaches who Jones helped knock off in the Final Four are coaching her with the AmeriCup team — Dawn Staley of South Carolina, the AmeriCup head coach, and Adia Barnes of Arizona, an assistant for the U.S. Jennifer Rizzotti, also a USA Women's National Team assistant coach, rounds out the coaching staff.
The elite-level play and versatility in Jones’ game shouldn’t come as a surprise. She was the No. 1 player in the country coming out of Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, California, and was also named the Morgan Wootten National Player of the Year in 2019.
Jones — who helped the 2018 USA U17 World Cup Team to a gold medal — had a sensational sophomore season, which was a nice rebound from a frustrating freshman year at Stanford. A right knee injury cut short her first season after just 18 games.
“Coming into this season, I knew I was going to have a more impactful role,” Jones said. “And I feel like I left some things on the court that I just didn’t achieve last year — not for awards or accolades, contributing to the team.”
Yet she turned the negative into a positive by being an active observer during practices and games while she recovered from her injury.
“I learned a lot playing last year, and I think I learned even more sitting on the sidelines,” Jones said. “I just got to watch from a different perspective, and being on the bench, I heard a lot of what the coaches were saying, what they see going on the floor. I got to be on the bench with DiJonai (Carrington, a senior last season) a lot, and that was really cool, because she knows so much about the game, and her being a similar player to myself, it was really cool to see her insight and tips and tricks.”
Jones improved her numbers across the board as a sophomore. She went from 11.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game to 13.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game this season. Jones often handled the ball in order to free up star senior point guard Kiana Williams, but she also found herself in the post to bolster the defense provided by 6-5 freshman center Cameron Brink.
That versatility and production — not to mention her effervescent smile — prompted legendary Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer during the Final Four to compare Jones to Hall of Famer Magic Johnson.
“I was surprised,” Jones said. “I was like, ‘I’ve never heard Tara say that. That’s great. Thank you!’ I think so highly of Tara, so when she gives me a compliment like that, to one of the greatest players to have played the game, it’s surreal to be compared to someone like that, but I truly appreciate it. I mean that’s definitely the kind of a player, a point-forward like myself, I’d say, with amazing court vision and that’s something I try to incorporate into my game. ... I do think about his game, the type of player he was. It was a very high compliment that I’m very grateful to have received.”