Melissa Jones, captain of the Baylor Bears' women's basketball team (her second year in that position) and a three-year starter, is the glue that holds a team predicted to finish first in the Big 12 this year together. A Preseason All-Big 12 selection, Jones knows how to make her presence felt on the court; at 5-11, the senior has the height of a point guard, shoots like a perimeter specialist (35.6 percent from three-point range), and rebounds like a post. Last year, Jones averaged 10.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, while leading her team in steals with 46 and ranking third in assists (66).
And then there is the intangible -- leadership. Jones missed 15 games due to a leg injury in 2009-10, and without her, Baylor struggled despite the presence of then-freshman prodigy Brittney Griner in the front-court. But with Jones back in action, Baylor finished the season with a 10-2 sprint, marching all the way to the Final Four before being stopped by Connecticut. And with Jones now back in top form, the Lady Bears look good to do it again this year.
"Melissa Jones needs to be a household name in women's basketball because she's one of the finest players that people don't talk about," Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey told reporters last year. "When you do a scouting report on us, one of the first players you better talk about is Melissa Jones because she can play any position on the floor. She is our captain, and everything we do is going to go through Melissa."
This weekend, however, Baylor Jones will take to a different kind of court. The senior guard was one of five nominees, narrowed down from a field of 49, selected to the Baylor Homecoming Court. Megan Robinson, representing the Baylor Songleaders and Spirit Squads, was chosen the Queen; Jones and three others will serve as Princesses. Jones, nominated by the Baylor "B" Association, will spend the weekend participating in homecoming festivities which include, among others, riding in Saturdays Homecoming Parade and being honored at halftime of Baylors football game against Kansas State.
Jones, who said she was taken by surprise by the honor, arrived at Baylor as a top recruit out of Thornton, Colorado's Legacy High School. She was selected as a member of the Baylor homecoming court after an intensive interview process. The candidates are selected based on the four categories: Scholarship, philanthropy, spiritual commitment and poise. (For a video of the selection night festivities, click on Women's Basketball, A Different Court).
I think it speaks volumes about Melissa that she was one of the five selected to the Homecoming Court. She is very deserving of this honor and we are extremely proud of her, said head coach Kim Mulkey.
A reign as homecoming princess might seem at odds with the on-court persona of Jones, who grew up the youngest of four siblings, a self-confessed tomboy who first picked up a basketball at the age of six. Her three older brothers all excelled in sports (football, basketball and wrestling) and taught her early how to survive a pummeling in the post. Known never to back down from a dare, Jones experimented with sky diving in the summer of her sophomore year before being warned off that sport by those charged with keeping the Baylor roster in one piece. She has said that the three words that best describe her are "Down to Earth," and the one thing she couldn't go a week without is her cell phone. Asked at this week's Big 12 media day what she hoped to do after graduation, Jones said she wanted to win the lottery.
But Jones refuses to fit neatly into anyone's box and also has a deeply spiritual side. She credits "God" as the person who has had the greatest impact on her career, and her pregame ritual consists of a prayer. This past summer, Jones traveled to Kenya as part of a Baylor sports ministry team that included teammate Lindsay Palmer. The crew painted and performed repair work on a rehab house and hosted several sports clinics in Nairobi. And academics are certainly no question for Jones, who was named to the Big 12 commissioner's honor roll last fall.
When she returns to preseason basketball preparations next week, Jones will be "reigning" over a roster that Mulkey describes as the deepest and most talented in her 11 years as Baylor's coach.
|Photo Caption: Jones on more familiar turf -- the hardwood court -- driving against Tennessee's Taber Spani (13) in the opening game of the 2009-10 regular season.|
|Photo Credit: Courtesy Baylor Photography/William Ewart|
The talent starts with Jones herself, along with fellow senior and point guard Kelli Griffin, who with 50 consecutive starts holds the squads longest active starting string. At 362 career assists, Griffin is closing in on the school's all-time assist record (she's currently No. 7). Better yet, Griffin boasts an enviable 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Of course, the Bear's also return last year's team MVP, 6-8 sensation Griner, now a sophomore, who averaged 18.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game and set an NCAA single-season record of 223 blocked shots as a freshman. Griner was picked by the Big 12's coaches this week as the league's preseason Player of the Year. For that, Baylor swept the preseason individual honors this year, as Rutgers' transfer Brooklyn Pope (eligible immediately) was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and Odyssey Sims got the coaches' nod as Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Sims, a lefty, is considered the nation's No. 1 incoming freshman point guard after averaging 22.5 points, 4.6 assists and 4.4 rebounds for MacArthur High in Irving, Texas.
In addition to Pope, a redshirt sophomore, Baylor picked up Destiny Williams as a transfer out of Illinois; both transfers are former McDonald's All-Americans, as is the freshman Sims. Williams will not become eligible until December 20.
Not surprisingly, Jones agrees with her coach's talent assessment. "On a 1 to 10 scale," she told the media this week, "the talent is 11 on this team."
The rubber will meet the road for Baylor on Monday, November 1, when the Lady Bears host St. Edward's in preseason play. The regular season tips off at 6:30 p.m. Central on November 12 as Baylor hosts Florida International as part of the annual World Vision Invitational.