By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
JONQUEL Jones and the Connecticut Sun made their WNBA preseason debut and the fourth year forward looks primed to step into her role as a team leader this season.
Jones finished with 19 points, four rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in just 19 minutes of the Sun’s 100-66 win over the New York Liberty last night at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut.
She shot 7-13 from the field, including 4-8 from three-point range. Defensively, she limited Liberty All-Star Tina Charles to just 11 points on 5-17 shooting, including an 0-8 start.
The Sun continue the preseason tonight when they face the Dallas Wings at 7pm. Connecticut will close out the preseason on Sunday, May 19, travelling to Albany, New York, to take on the Liberty at 2:30pm.
The Sun will open the 2019 WNBA season on Saturday, May 25, against the Washington Mystics.
“To be a championship team Jonquel Jones has to blossom into one of the premier players in the league,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said at training camp.
“No more looking over her shoulder. It was easy if one of them was in foul trouble or having an off night it was easy to have a shorter leash. ‘JJ’ experienced that in her second year, her breakout year, she had a longer leash because we didn’t have Chiney [Ogwumike]. Obviously you clear some air space for her, really excited about her fourth year and what kind of season she’ll have for us.”
The Sun exercised the fourth year team option on Jones in September. Last offseason, Jones missed the entire training camp and preseason which Miller noted was a setback throughout the year. Jones had another successful WNBA offseason this year as her team captured the EuroLeague women’s championship. Her UMMC Ekaterinburg of the Russian Premier League won their second consecutive and fifth EuroLeague title.
In Russia, Jones played alongside teammates of Brittney Griner (Phoenix Mercury), Emma Meessemen (Washington Mystics) and Maria Vadeeva Los Angeles Sparks).
“You live and you learn. You try to do things to adjust and get better and I’ve learned what not to do. It wasn’t about gaining weight, I just wanted to be able to bang a little more with the post players. I didn’t realise that I lost a lot of my agility and quickness and stuff that really helped me stand out,” Jones told the Norwich Bulletin.
“I have to make sure that I’m ready to play those long minutes. I was working hard, getting ready for this (the WNBA season).
“It’s tough to go year-round, playing and playing. It’s tough on your body. I’m still young, but when I was younger, I didn’t really feel it. I feel it a little more. I was blessed that we had so many bodies (in Russia) that they rested people. At first, it was like, ‘Dang, I wish I was playing’ but when I thought about it, it made sense to get rest and get better in practice.“
When Chiney Ogwumike was injured for the entire 2017 season, Jones posted a breakout season, but was relegated to a reserve role in 2018 once she returned to the floor.
With an increased role, 2017 was a season full of milestones for the Grand Bahama native.
In her second season, she was named to the All-WNBA Second Team after she averaged a double double, set the league’s single season rebounds total, was named an All-Star and was awarded the WNBA’s Most Improved Player.
Jones finished the year averaging 15.5 points and 11.9 rebounds per game - a dramatic increase from her rookie season when she averaged 6.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Her record-setting total was 403 rebounds for the season. She also added 20 double doubles.
Jones’ historic season included several individual milestones, including becoming just the second player in league history to record three 20-rebound games in a single season.
Once Ogwumike returned, Jones faced limited playing time and a dip in production. Her playing time dropped from 28.5 to 20.5 minutes per game as a reserve and she started only 16 of the 34 regular-season games.
Jones was still named the 2018 WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year, earning the honour as the league’s top reserve for the first time in her three-year career. She averaged 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, a career-high 1.7 assists and 1.24 blocked shots per game last season. She tied for ninth in the WNBA in blocks and ranked fifth in field goal percentage (55.0) and second in three-point field goal percentage (46.7).
With 50 three-pointers made, she surpassed her total from the previous two seasons combined (36). During the Sun’s 9-1 finish to the season, Jones averaged 18.5 points and 6.6 rebounds. That stretch included four games of 20 or more points.
Now with Ogwumike traded away to the Los Angeles Sparks, Jones again moves to the forefront of the Sun’s plans for the future.