Michelle Smith WBB Feature: Stanford's Haley Jones is getting better every day

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Ask Haley Jones how the season is going and she answers casually, “Pretty good.”

But the Stanford freshman do-everything player is underselling quite a bit. She came to Tara VanDerveer’s program as the nation’s No. 1 recruit, the headliner on one of the nation’s top recruiting classes.

You couldn’t find two people - coach and player - who care less about those distinctions than VanDerveer and Jones. All VanDerveer cares about is that she can plug Jones into almost any position on the floor and get effective, poised minutes. All Jones cares about is that she is making a positive impact on her team.

“I never really cared much about that,” Jones said of that No. 1 recruit label. “I mean, sure, thank you for that. But it’s not going to change anything about me, it’s not going to change my work ethic, or how I go about my business day to day.

“I’m in college now and it has nothing to do with who I am now. When people bring it up, it’s like, yeah, that was cool, but I’m a freshman again and that’s in the past for me. It’s not important to my coaches or my team and it’s not my focus.”

Instead, Jones is focused on being the most versatile player she can and soaking in all the information possible from coaches and teammates from the multiple positions she’s been asked to play so far.

VanDerveer said that Jones does things, at this young point in her college career, that “you can’t teach.” She compared Jones’ game to three-time All-American Nicole Powell, the versatile talent who was the Pac-10’s all-time leading scorer when her career ended in 2004.

“It’s her feel for the game, making plays, she passes the ball very well,” VanDerveer said. “She is big, she has vision, she is very versatile.”

Jones, in the starting lineup at the wing spot, will move into the post when needed, will run the offense when needed. With injuries to senior Di’Jonai Carrington and Maya Dodson, Jones has been called upon to fill a few roles, averaging 10.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. In the No. 3-ranked Cardinal’s last preseason game against UC Davis, she put up her first career double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds. It was the first 20-point, 10-rebound double-double at Stanford since freshman Chiney Ogwumike did it in March 2011.

“She is doing a lot for our team, there are games where I can’t take her out,” VanDerveer said.

Jones said she is learning every day, from her coaches and her veteran teammates and that it doesn’t matter to her whether she settles into one specific role.

“I just want to be a source of energy and versatility,” Jones said. “I want to make good decisions with the ball. With our team, it can be a different player every night, we are so deep. Somebody is going to have the hot hand, and I just want to make sure I put them in the best position to score.”

Jones said she is still adjusting to the pace of the college game. VanDerveer said Jones’ steepest learning curve is “having an understanding about what goes into being a great college player.”

Both agree, they feel good about the direction she’s headed so far.

“I feel like I’m getting better every day,” Jones said.

“We just need people to come in and get the job done,” VanDerveer said. “I doesn’t matter whether you were a McDonald’s All-American or not. “Getting the job done is next-level basketball. Haley makes plays for us.”

Michelle Smith is a contributing writer for pac-12.com. She has covered pro and college sports for espnW, San Francisco Chronicle, The Athletic and AOL Fanhouse. She was has won several awards, including the WBCA's Mel Greenberg Media Award, presented annually to a member of the media who has best displayed commitment to advancing the role of the media in women's basketball. For previous Michelle Smith features on pac-12.com, visit the archives page.

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