Former UConn women's basketball star Jones learning ropes as coach in WNBA

Published on Thursday, 13 February 2020 21:20
Written by CARL ADAMEC


Asjha Jones is one of 11 players in the world - including seven who played with the UConn women’s basketball team - to win NCAA and WNBA titles, and Olympic and FIBA world championships gold medals.

“Do any of them have a WNBA title as a coach?” Jones said with a smile.

Yes, Asjha Jones does.

The 2002 UConn graduate was a player development assistant working with post players while assisting with video and game preparations during the Washington Mystics’ run to their first WNBA crown last year.

In December, Mystics general manager and coach Mike Thibault announced that Jones had been promoted to assistant coach.

Jones was at Gampel Pavilion last week with fellow Mystics assistant coach Eric Thibault to watch the Huskies practice and scout the UConn-Oregon game.

“Towards the end of my career, Coach T would ask me if I thought about coaching,” Jones said. ‘I’d say, ‘No. There’s no way, absolutely not. I don’t know how you do this job.’ After I retired he called me and said, ‘What do you think? Do you want to give it a try?’ There was a position he was creating with his team that would give me an opportunity to try it and see if I liked it. I told him, ‘You know what? I’ll try it.’

“The first year was difficult adjusting to the schedule. It’s a lot more hours coaching than playing. There’s a different kind of preparation and it was tough for me at first. It wasn’t physical, but cerebral, doing planning and player development. But by the end of the season I enjoyed being a part of the team. That part you miss when you’re not around it. I enjoyed being around it because it is who I am. I tried to act like it wasn’t for so long but it is who I am. That’s what I’m good at.

“So at the end of my first year I knew, ‘I can do this.’ Now I need to get better at it. It got in me and now every year it sinks in a little more. So I’ll be back for a third year.”

Jones, a native of Piscataway, New Jersey, won national championships with the Huskies in 2000 and 2002, FIBA world championships gold in 2010, and Olympic gold in 2012, all teams coached by Geno Auriemma. She won her WNBA title with the 2015 Minnesota Lynx.

She took her player development position with the Mystics in 2017 after retiring.

“Asjha asked, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘I think you’ll enjoy it,’ ” Auriemma said. “She spent two months coaching and called me up and said, ‘Coach, this stuff is hard. You guys don’t get enough credit and don’t make enough money.’ She realized from a coaching standpoint what players don’t ever understand: How much time and effort goes into trying to make your team better.

“For me it is always great when former players end up being coaches, because while you’re a player you think, ‘Anybody can do that job. Just give me the ball, coach. Put me in position, and I’m good.’ Hell, I had two guards on the national team who told me every day they could coach better than me.”

The four 2002 graduates from UConn are still in the game. Like Jones, Tamika Williams Jeter is coaching as an assistant at Ohio State. Swin Cash is the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans vice president of basketball operations and team development.

And, of course, Sue Bird is still playing and seeking a record fifth Olympic gold medal.

“Things happen the way that they’re supposed to happen, right?” Jones said with a smile. “I was the guy who was out here every day practicing. They’d be injured and I’d be practicing. I put a lot of miles on my body. I played year-round. And my body held up longer than it should have.

“Sue? She’s gone about things throughout her career the right way. She’s taken breaks when she needed them and now she’s the one still on the court. She’s playing because she’s smarter than anyone else.”

Jones had terrific coaches as a player, including Hall of Famer Auriemma, the winningest coach in WNBA history in Thibault, and her last coach with the Lynx, Cheryl Reeve.

But the 39-year-old is working to find out who she is as a coach.

“As a player, I was also a teacher. I made it my business to make sure what to do, how to do it, and to make things better,” Jones said. “But I’m still trying to figure out who I am, what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. Then I try to strengthen my weaknesses.”

It worked her for her as a player and as a winner at all levels. She believes the formula will continue to be effective.

She has something to offer from experience that only 10 others have.

“When it comes to accolades like that, anyone who knows me knows - and people here have watched me play for a long time - know those things aren’t important to me,” Jones said. “But when I sit back and reflect about my career, wow, that’s a pretty exclusive club and a great accomplishment. I’m overly humbled when people mention that. It’s an awesome group to be a part of.”

Posted in Newington Town Crier, UConn on Thursday, 13 February 2020 21:20. Updated: Thursday, 13 February 2020 21:22.