Asjha Jones always even-keel
Forward's consistent personality helps Sun return to playoffs after two-year absence
A Richter scale for emotions would give you very little insight into Connecticut forward Asjha Jones. Unless you're a mathematics whiz, how do you measure fluctuations that, if they exist at all, are so tiny?
"She's always been consistent in the sense that she doesn't have many highs or lows," Sun coach Mike Thibault said.
Jones' former UConn teammate, Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi said, "She's one of the coolest people you could play with. She was my roommate in college when we went on the road. You always knew what you were going to get with Asjha. She was never in a bad mood; she was never in a giddy mood. Which was nice."
Or as Huskies coach Geno Auriemma puts it, there is something especially comforting about having a player like Jones around.
"She's like that easy chair you have in your den," Auriemma said. "It's always there, and you can count on it."
OK, you might not think that a comparison to furniture would be very flattering for a basketball player, but in this case it's a big compliment. And you get Auriemma's point. The best teams generally work well because there is a mix of personalities. But there also has to be that "mortar" personality that tends to hold everything together. That's Jones.
And in her 10th season in the WNBA, Jones is hoping to bring to Connecticut's pro women's hoops team what she helped bring twice to Storrs in her time at UConn: a championship.
"I like to be the person who's always going to be there, always dependable," Jones said. "I'm not going to complain about things. My coaches and teammates know they can count on me, and that's what I've built my career on, from high school on up. It's great that I can be that person."
A 6-foot-3 forward, Jones averaged 13.2 points and 6.2 rebounds during the regular season for Connecticut, which had missed the playoffs the past two years. Thibault thinks one of the biggest differences between this season and last was that a mostly young team grew up.
But another important factor was that two of the veterans, Jones and guard Kara Lawson, were healthier.
"We were fighting Asjha's and Kara's injuries all last year," Thibault said. "Even thought they played a lot, they never could stay healthy."
Lawson doesn't compete overseas, as she does broadcasting work during the college season. Jones usually goes abroad to play, but she didn't last winter.
Jones had strained her Achilles' tendon in 2009 and missed the end of that WNBA season. It wasn't as though she had a bad 2010 season; she still played 30 games and averaged 10.8 points and 4.9 rebounds. Yet if a metronome somehow is off even one beat, you notice. That's kind of how it was with Jones in 2010, as she still didn't feel 100 percent with the Achilles' issue.
Coming out of high school, she had the best temperament. She was an adult before she was actually an adult. She was able to recognize things and adjust really quickly. That's why she's still so effective in that league: Her game is based on knowledge, temperament, skill. She studies. It's not just, 'I'm going to run by you and jump over you.'” -- UConn coach Geno Auriemma on former Huskies standout Asjha Jones
"Asjha staying home in our offseason made a huge difference for her," Thibault said, adding, "That was her call; it's her money. She felt like she needed to recover herself."
Jones, of course, was part of the most famous class in UConn history, along with Seattle's Sue Bird and Swin Cash, and former WNBA player Tamika Williams. Those four and then-sophomore Taurasi started on what many consider as good a women's college basketball team as has played: the 2002 NCAA champions.
Of the four of those starters who are still active in the WNBA, Jones is the only one who hasn't won a league championship. But she's also the one that Auriemma will now tell you was an irreplaceable piece in that particular gilded era of UConn hoops.
"She did not miss one practice in four years at Connecticut," Auriemma recalled. "There were never any surprises, no drama. It was a tremendous comfort for everybody else.
"Coming out of high school, she had the best temperament. She was an adult before she was actually an adult. She was able to recognize things and adjust really quickly. That's why she's still so effective in that league: Her game is based on knowledge, temperament, skill. She studies. It's not just, 'I'm going to run by you and jump over you.'"
Thibault said another of Jones' assets is her efficiency in preparation.
"She doesn't need to warm up much; she comes out and she's hitting shots right away," he said. "She does a pregame shooting routine that's probably the shortest of anybody on our team, but it works for her. It's like a machine -- somewhere along the line when she was younger, she was well-taught.
"She's a leader, but it's not because she says a lot. The players joke about it: If you get the 'Asjha look' in your direction, you know it's time to buckle down. When she does speak, it gets quiet."
Thibault still grins remembering the day in March 2004 when a three-way deal that included Phoenix sent Jones from Washington, the team that drafted her in 2002, to Connecticut. He pretty much figured this was highway robbery, but the Mystics were willing participants.
Washington got guard Tamicha Jackson from Phoenix, while Connecticut sent the Mercury the No. 8 pick in the '04 draft, which ended up being Chandi Jones. Jackson and Chandi Jones last played in the WNBA in 2006.
Asjha Jones came off the bench her first three seasons for the Sun, and has started all five since. She has averaged in double figures in scoring the past six seasons with Connecticut. In the annals of the WNBA's most lop-sided trades, this deal will always have a prominent mention.
"That was one of the better days we had in our early years here, to feel like we got a great player," Thibault said. "Washington, for whatever reason, didn't think she was ever going to start for them. We felt like eventually she would for us, but that she could be a great sixth player behind Taj [McWilliams-Franklin] and Margo [Dydek]. We were giving up nothing in our estimation; a late first-round pick. That was easy."
It wasn't necessarily so easy for Jones. Although, keeping with her character, she still made the transition seamlessly.
"I love D.C., and I bought a place there," Jones said. "Right after that, I got traded. So that was a little difficult. But at the same time, if I had to go anywhere, I'm glad it was here to Connecticut. In the end, it worked out best for me."
Jones, who turned 31 in August, would love to get a WNBA title but feels good about what she has done with her career thus far. And she also already has a jump on what lies ahead for her after basketball.
"I've started a shoe line, it's for size 10½ to 15 dress shoes. I design them," Jones said of her company, Takera, which got its moniker from her own middle name. "It's been in my mind a long time, because I wear a size 13 shoe. I'm old enough where I can try to move forward and work at being a businesswoman."
The shoes are available for order online now, and Jones will be expanding the collection. The personality that has served her so well staying even-keel with the peaks and valleys of sports will do the same in business.
"I like being thought of as a player who's gotten better every year, but at the same time, I'm the same person," Jones said. "I guess I'm proud of that. Anyone who knows me knows the kind of person I am. I haven't changed."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.
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