For GW's Jonquel Jones, Atlantic 10 title another day in paradise

Some pictures can tell the whole story.

On the George Washington University website you can see the joy and elation on the face of  women’s head basketball coach Jonathan Tsipis. He is holding the net that was cut down after GW’s Atlantic 10 championship game win over Dayton.

On GW’s women's basketball web page, the players’ faces are filled with smiles, happiness and excitement.  The entire team is hoisting the conference championship trophy after their 75-62 win. On Monday night, they were rewarded with a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face No. 11 Gonzaga on Friday in Corvallis, Ore.

No other GW women's basketball team has won 29 games in a season. One reason for their success is that players know their roles. Three different players lead three different statistical categories. Caira Washington leads the team in field-goal percentage, shooting 51 percent. Shannon Cranshaw has knocked down a team best 48 3-pointers. Lauren Chase is averaging a team-high 4.1 assists per game.

A good portion of GW’s success though comes from one source. She leads the team in seven statistical categories: total points (449), scoring average (15.5), rebounds (12.4 a game), field-goals made (181), free-throws made (73) and blocked shots (56).

[caption id="attachment_846" align="alignleft" width="300"] Preston and Jonquel Jones (Courtesy George Washington athletics)[/caption]

The picture of the 6-foot-4 junior forward holding the Atlantic 10 championship Most Outstanding Player trophy isn’t as dominant as the other pictures on the school website. Her picture only tells a tiny bit of her story. No one would know from looking at it that the girl in the picture is believed to be just the third Bahamian girls' basketball player ever to earn a Division I scholarship out of high school.To Jonquel Jones, the turquoise water and white sand of Grand Bahama Island is as common as icicles and snow to a person living in Alaska. Jones, also known as J.J., saw that every day growing up. Her grandparents, parents and cousins still call Grand Bahama home.

“I didn’t realize how slow paced (Grand Bahama) was,” said Jones. “I didn't think it was slow because it was the only thing I knew. No one is in a rush and no one does anything too quickly.”

On an island half the size of Rhode Island and isolated in the Atlantic Ocean, becoming a Division I basketball player would seem nearly impossible.

“In the Bahamas you play just seven games in a (high school) season; that’s it,” said Jones.

Finding a pick-up game on Grand Bahama wasn’t as easy as getting one in Washington, D.C. To fix that, the Jones family built a court.

“My father and my uncle built a court in my grandma’s backyard,” said Jones. “When I was young I would wake up at 6 a.m., take a shortcut to her house, running through the bushes on this path called Track Road. I’d practice from 6 to 8, shower there and then go to school.”

“The court was built before J.J. was even born,” said Preston Jones, Jonquel’s father and a basketball coach at Eight Mile High School. “It was the only court in the Holmes Rock area (of Freeport). The court was for the whole community to use; not just for us.”

Jones got a taste of being stateside and playing against elite competition while playing on AAU teams during her high school summers. The summer between 10th and 11th grade Jones said was when she felt like she could play with the best players in the United States. She played at Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro, Md. under Diane Richardson, now an assistant coach at GW.

While two other Bahamian girls' basketball players might have been first and second ones to earn Division I scholarships, neither of them were named the Atlantic 10 Player and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season as Jones was.

In fact, only two other players in the history of the Atlantic 10 conference besides Jones have won both awards in the same season.

“Coming from the Bahamas I couldn’t have imagined any of this,” said Jones.

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