It would be easy to look at Stephanie Jones’ cumulative statistics and come to a conclusion that the Aberdeen High School product wasn’t having as good a year as last season when she landed on the All-Big Ten team.
That assessment would be woefully inaccurate.
“Gosh, I wish I had five more Stephanies,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “You talk about the selflessness, she’ll just do whatever we need her to do — start, come off the bench — she’s always going to be consistent and reliable and do whatever this team needs to be able to win.”
And what this 14-4 team this year needs from Jones is a little bit of everything on the floor and even more in the locker room. While her scoring and rebounding numbers (10.3 points and 4.6 rebounds) are down slightly from last year (12.8 and 6.0), all her intangibles are up, including more confidence and aggressiveness on offense, more defense in the Terrapins’ new-and-improved switching-all-positions scheme, and more leadership for a team with five players who are either freshmen or sophomore in the nine-player rotation.
“I just do whatever I need to for my team, whether that’s coming off the bench or starting,” the senior forward said matter-of-factly. “I do whatever puts us in the best position.”
While fellow seniors Kaila Charles and Blair Watson pile up headlines and highlights, and budding stars Shakira Austin, Taylor Mikesell and Ashley Owusu continue to grow and promise a bright future for the Terrapins, Jones just keeps doing all the little things that translate to victories.
She’s like the duct tape that keeps the whole Maryland machine together and functioning properly. Frese is finding all sorts of ways to use her versatile skills to make good things happen.
Take No. 20 Maryland’s 87-69 win against Nebraska Jan. 16, which came on the heels of a 77-49 dismantling of Michigan Jan. 12. With the win against the Cornhuskers, the Terrapins secured back-to-back victories in the Big Ten for the first time this season; the conference standings are becoming a tumultuous tussle.
Charles (23 points and seven rebounds) and the female-Ernie-Graham-play-alike Owusu (16 points on 7-of-10 shooting) did the heavy lifting, but Jones quietly added 14 points on an efficient 7-of-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. The Terrapins opened up a working margin and never trailed after the first eight minutes.
Maryland’s next game, a 76-62 win against Indiana Jan. 21, was a similar story. Jones (12 points and six rebounds) supported Austin (23 points) and Mikesell (16). It was Jones’ fourth consecutive start, with Frese believing the Terrapins need Jones’ steadiness out of the gates to help the team’s thoroughbred foals find their footing.
It’s a role the formerly quiet Jones is beginning to relish.
“Over the past two years, I’ve just gradually been getting into that leadership role, building that up,” Jones said. “As a senior you have to step up and you have to speak up more.”
Jones, a player mostly known for many rebounds and few words, has always let her game speak for her, though maybe not as loudly as her older sister Brionna Jones’ game did. Brionna, a 2017 Maryland grad and former All-America center, currently stars in the WNBA. Now Stephanie, the 6-foot-2 little sister, is finding her voice in more ways than one.
Jones’ .566 field goal percentage leads the Terps. She’s tied for fourth in scoring and is second in rebounding and blocked shots (0.7 per game). She also has the fewest turnovers on a team that has been troubled in that area with season-ending injuries to two guards earlier this year.
“It’s a learning process for all of us,” Jones said. “[Assistant coach Shay Robinson] said that throughout the season we’re all learning something more about ourselves as we go along. We’re learning how to be better leaders and the underclassmen are learning from us seniors how to do things here.”
Jones had her own personal mentor when she got to Maryland. Brionna was already an established senior star when Stephanie landed in College Park in 2016 out of Havre de Grace, Md., and Aberdeen High. Stephanie was ESPN’s No. 51 prospect in the nation.
Jones didn’t play much as a freshman, a high school knee injury slowing her start and limiting her to nine minutes a game in her 34 appearances. She would become a fixture, though, after Brionna and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough graduated. She started every game the next two years.
Last year, she shot a remarkable 59 percent from the floor and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, but the 29-5, Big Ten regular-season champ Terrapins lost in the conference tournament title game to Iowa and then got bounced at home in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Terrapins are hungry this year in maybe the most competitive season in the conference since Maryland became a Big Ten member in 2014. Jones knows how help her younger teammates cope.
“Your freshman year coming in, it’s not easy for anybody making that jump from high school to college and having an injury on top of that just made it harder,” Jones recalled. “My sister, having been through the same situation her freshman year, really helped with that.
“Her experience and her just keeping me focused on what the end goal was — just being ready to play at the start of the season and just knowing that not everything is going to happen at one time. You have to stay the course, trust the process and keep working and your game will come.”
Jones’ game has most definitely come and even arrived. Long-armed with good athleticism, she’s a great fit now as Maryland is much improved defensively, switching through all screens and ranking among national leaders in steals and turnover margin. Offensively, she has been money in the bank with the team’s most consistent mid-range game.
“This year I’ve tried to be stronger and more consistent with my shot,” Jones said. “I want to lead by example.”
The ACL injury she suffered in high school has had an ancillary, long-term effect on Jones, too, it turns out. Brionna had the same injury in high school, as did older brother Jarred, who played at Loyola. It’s apparently hard to keep up with the Joneses in this unfortunate realm, but it gave Stephanie a goal.
The process of her own rehabilitation fascinated her so much she became a kinesiology major. She’ll graduate on time this spring, but becoming a trainer or physical therapist and helping others fix things — classic Stephanie Jones — will probably have to wait until she plays more basketball someplace professionally.
The Jones siblings’ athletic props are no fluke, either. Their mother, Sanciarhea, played volleyball at East Texas State and their father, Michael, played college basketball at Hartford.
Brionna and Stephanie went head-to-head again in some Maryland practices in December. Stephanie Jones and Alyssa Thomas, also a WNBA star, came back to up the ante in hard-fought scrimmages that have helped the team.
“It was like old times,” laughed Stephanie of matching up with Brionna. “She has always helped me, telling me to be myself, believe in myself and play my game.”
Obviously, Little Sister was listening.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics