February 17, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Kierra Jones was in a zone.
Shooters know the place. When you''re there, your shooting stroke is perfect, the ball has the ideal rotation, and every shot you take is nothing but net.
The Starkville High School girls basketball standout wasn''t quite in that zone, although she did have two productive evenings last week at the Class 5A-Division 2 tournament at South Panola High School.
The zone Jones found herself in last week had more to do with a relaxed, confident, and, most importantly, a focused mind-set that helped her play a key role in the Yellow Jackets'' march to a championship.
Jones scored 15 points in a 70-58 victory against South Panola on Tuesday and added 23 points in a 60-51 upset of top-seeded Tupelo.
The victory against Tupelo was the first for Jones and Starkville (17-9) in four seasons, and helped the team secure a first-round home game at 6 tonight against Greenville in the Class 5A North State Tournament.
For her performances, Jones is The Commercial Dispatch Prep Player of the Week.
"I had one mind-set and that was to win, regardless of what it took," said Jones, a 5-foot-11 senior forward. "I didn''t worry about what my teammates should be doing. I wanted us to win, and, at the same time, I didn''t get frustrated and I kept my head in the game. I rebounded, and the rebounding as a team, helped us with the win."
Jones'' focus on the court is crucial because she admits she has had times in her career where she has been too hard on herself (even harder on herself than coach Kristie Williams, she said). In those instances, Jones said she has taken herself out of games mentally.
This season, she has found a balance between a leadership role and a scoring role.
Jones leads the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game and averages nearly nine rebounds per game. Her strength on the blocks opens things up for her teammates on the perimeter, which is key for the Yellow Jackets'' inside-outside game.
"We strive for team ball," Williams said. "A lot of teams look at Kierra and do focus on her. What has happened is she has opened doors for everyone else to step up and build their confidence. It is an all-around team effort and it all starts with Kierra in the post opening opportunities for everyone else."
Williams said Jones has emerged as a leader this season. She said she talked with Jones at the beginning of the season to impress on her the importance of what she needed to do and what kind of example she needed to set for her teammates.
Jones showed last week she is capable of doing everything her coach wants and more.
"What she did Friday is Kierra," Williams said. "She doesn''t mind going that extra mile. If we need a rebound or if we need that shot, she is right there for us."
Jones doesn''t care if she is rebounding or scoring, as long as Starkville wins. She said she has taken one of Williams'' sayings -- When no one cares who gets credit you see what happens -- to heart and has tried to work hard and to set a positive example for her teammates.
Williams said Jones has done that despite being double- and triple-teamed.
"Over the course of the year she has slowly understood it is about the team but, at the same time, I do bring a lot to what our success is about," Williams said. "She has slowly grown into understanding I can score and my teammates can score and we will do well.
"She has made several assists through each game when it was an opportunity she looked like she may have taken it herself, but she looks up and recognizes a teammate has a better shot."
Jones said she has come a long way since she was a freshman and "did not want to play defense at all." She said she has improved her ballhandling, free throws, rebounding, defense, and has come a long way with her attitude. The improvement has happened all with an eye on playing basketball in college.
Jones said she has spoken with coaches at Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., and at Loyola University (La.) about possible scholarship offers. For now, though, she said she will contemplate her options. She hopes to make a decision sometime soon.
Jones still had traces of a smile on her face Monday that was left over from the victory against Tupelo. She said the "great night" stayed with her all night and helped her wake up Saturday with a smile on her face.
Williams hopes the example Jones sets for her teammates continues to produce championship results.
"In practice, she is always trying to help her teammates, especially when we break down into our post-guard workouts," Williams said. "She is helping the other post players and building their confidence. She is a teacher as well as a leader for us. That is a credit to her maturity she has shown over the years. She is very vocal in practice, and her teammates really look to her to guide and to lead us."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.