Versatility puts Mone' Jones in spotlight
When Mone' Jones was 3, she trapped her uncle in a corner during a Christmas gathering and wouldn't let him go until he listened to her sing. By the time she was 6, she was singing solos in church.
Now at 16, it's others who can't stop singing Jones' praise.
The 6-foot-3 sophomore from Riverside (Durham, N.C.) is the No. 18 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Terrific 25 for the class of 2015. She's leading the Pirates in points (12.4), rebounds (7.5) and blocks (4.4). And it's not just her basketball skills people are lauding.
"She's the first one who helps someone up if they're down," said Riverside coach Alicia Jones, no relation. "And the first one to give them a pat on the back if they've done something good. She's pretty much the person who everyone talks to."
Her outgoing nature has helped her get comfortable with a leadership role even though other players have more experience.
"I have to put the team on my back to push them through," Jones said. "And I think that will help me on the next level."
Jones has been recruited for that "next level" since she was 12, although she didn't know it at first. She assumed a mailing she received from the University of North Carolina was an advertisement for a basketball camp. Then she opened it and saw the Tar Heels wanted her to come to campus for more than a summer -- the Durham native had received her first recruiting letter.
"It was crazy because I didn't realize that people were really looking at me in the seventh grade," Jones said. "They were talking about how they were interested in me, and I asked my parents, 'What is this? What is going on?' That's when I realized what was happening."
She is much more used to the attention now -- Jones has four bins full of letters from schools that are interested in her, and she has learned to not be distracted when college coaches watch her play. "People will say, 'Hey Mo, this is such and such,'" Jones said. "I really don't pay attention to it because I'm in game mode."
So far Jones has made unofficial visits to North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, South Carolina and Virginia, and also has been seen by the coaches of Maryland, Syracuse, Louisville, Penn State, Purdue, Miami, West Virginia and Auburn. She said she's most interested in a program that has a family atmosphere and a coach who is willing to push her.
"The two big things I'm looking for are teammates [who] have your back no matter what and where you leave your heart on the floor all the time," Jones said. "And I'm looking for a coach that's going to get on me when I'm not doing right."
With her parents and coaches all telling her to take her time, Jones plans on keeping her options open and not making a decision until the end of her junior year or the beginning of her senior year.
One reason coaches are so intrigued is Jones' versatility. Jones played in the post when she was younger, but she started training to be a guard when her trainers told her that's where she would most likely be needed at the next level.
As a result, the multidimensional Jones can dribble the ball up the court when the guards need help, pop out to the wing and shoot from outside, or bring her defender into the post and do her damage from there.
"When I first started, I was a dominant post player, and then I stepped out to the wing," Jones said. "I'm comfortable either way. Whatever Coach needs me to do, I'll do."
Jones said her role model is Candace Parker, whose position on USA Basketball's website is listed as "Guard/Forward/Center." Jones also likes how Parker was always positive on the court, which is a quality she tries to emulate.
She also tries to keep her vocal chords in shape and wants to go into sports broadcasting eventually. And her dad, Bobby Jones, thinks all those singing performances as a kid have helped her with basketball.
"I think that helps her relax in clutch situations," Bobby said. "When she has to make free throws in critical situations in the game in front of everyone, she's not afraid to step up."