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NY Post
New York Post
30 Sep 2023

NextImg:Jonquel Jones’ challenging Liberty transition has started to pay off

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Through all her years alongside Jonquel Jones, from becoming her legal guardian to coaching her in high school and college, Diane Richardson never needed to have a conversation like this before.

Jones was struggling.

Really struggling.

The pressure of playing for a new team — following her offseason trade request from the Sun to the Liberty — and a new market and new fans had turned tough self-criticism into thoughts that were flat-out negative.

She wanted everything to fall in place right away, but then that didn’t even happen by the All-Star break.

Richardson needed to mask her motherly approach to the relationship and reassess everything with her coaching instincts she’d always passed along to Jones since meeting her for the first time in eighth grade, then coaching her at Riverdale Baptist School and then again as an assistant at George Washington.

Jonquel Jones has averaged a double-double for the Liberty since the All-Star break.
NBAE via Getty Images

She told Jones to get it together, get out of her own way mentally and inch closer to resembling the player that averaged 19.4 points and 11.2 rebounds in 2021.

There wasn’t an exact game or an moment in which everything clicked, but Jones averaged a double-double (12.2 points, 10.3 rebounds) after the All-Star break after just 10.3 points and 6.1 rebounds over her first 15 games away from the only WNBA franchise she ever knew. 

“I had to kind of get myself out of that and just trust the process,” Jones said following the Liberty’s shootaround Friday before Game 3 of their WNBA semifinals series at Mohegan Sun Arena. “Because I felt like I just wanted everything to just fall in place so quickly and it just didn’t happen like that for me, you know? That’s just the way it was.”

Jones hasn’t quite rediscovered or replicated the numbers from her MVP season in 2021, but she doesn’t necessarily need that same production on this stacked Liberty roster.

Jonquel Jones was traded from the Sun to the Liberty after the 2022 season.
NBAE via Getty Images

After a run to the WNBA Finals last year, plus three other semifinals runs across her career, Jones has a different perspective of her latest push for an elusive championship.

One season of success — or, in this case, one season of a superteam — doesn’t mean anything going forward.

Key to her turnaround was simply removing unnecessary pressure.

Jones needed to play freely, with the same enjoyment as when Richardson took Jones to her courtside seats for Maryland women’s basketball or her third-row view for the Mystics.

Richardson wanted her to hear everything, to see the sweat, to watch their cuts and moves, to remove the entertainment side of the game — which might happen if she sat further up in the stands — process everything from a similar view the actual players had.

She took Jones to the Final Four, too, to see how everything operated, and when they attended those games, Richardson pointed out players Jones could emulate and ones she could even be better than one day, Jones said.

“No longer is it something on a pedestal or something that you see on TV,” Richardson said. “It’s real life.”

Jonquel Jones spent her final three collegiate seasons playing at George Washington.
Getty Images

At that stage, the vision Jones shared with Richardson seemed tangible and within reach, as she watched the sport’s budding — and existing — stars with Alyssa Thomas, Monique Currie, Lynetta Kizer, Marissa Coleman and others.

“I said, ‘You could be a pro, you could be a pro,’” Richardson said, “and I don’t know if she believed it early on, but I knew with her work ethic, she could get there.”

Jones learned that it’s important to remember the players from the generation she grew up watching, the ones she snagged strategies from for her skill set.

She acknowledged Friday the league has “missed the mark” to weave past generations into future ones. It’s part of the legacy she hopes to leave after retiring.

Jonquel Jones holds the MVP trophy alongside WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert in 2021.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jones needed to understand the finer details of the sport, too, including things that weren’t apparent at the college level.

She learned that, sometimes, careers stretch beyond one team.

She observed that seasons and postseason runs are fragile, with the latest example unfolding last season when the Sun lost to the Aces in the final. 

Jonquel Jones, pictured during a Sept. 10 game, won the MVP award in 2021 while with the Connecticut Sun.
Getty Images

“I guess as a Sun player, we’d say, ‘Next year, we’ll be back’ after you lost, but you just never know for sure,” Jones said. “Teams change. Things change, and ultimately, opportunities change.”

That gives Jones a different perspective this postseason, she said.

And after what Richardson called a “devastating” finish in 2022 and a devastating start to 2023, Jones has started to resemble the type of player that everyone expected.

That, at least, made everything seem more normal.