Michelle Smith: Haley Jones facilitates for Stanford on and off the court
MINNEAPOLIS - Haley Jones smiled that mega-watt grin when asked to share her philosophy for being a facilitator for her Stanford team.
“I don’t think I’ve ever thought of myself in that way,” Jones said Thursday, sitting in front of the national media to talk about Friday night’s NCAA Final Four matchup with Connecticut at the Target Center. "I think I just like to incorporate different people into everything that I’m doing."
That is abundantly apparent both on and off the floor for the Cardinal junior All-American. If the Hull sisters are the “glue” to this Stanford team, then Jones is the engine, humming steadily and keeping things moving forward.
Jones is the tone-setter for poise and composure. She is a scorer when she needs to be, a rebounder always, and a passer with a precision that makes the Cardinal one of the best offensive teams in the country.
Jones leads the team in minutes played, ranks second in scoring (12.9) and rebounding (7.8) and leads in assists with 118 (3.4 per game). After scoring just 11 points in Stanford’s first two NCAA games, she has produced double-doubles in the last two, combining for 35 points, 22 rebounds and 10 assists.
Against Connecticut, Stanford will need Jones to be at her best in every way, the way she was a year ago when she was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player while leading the Cardinal to its first NCAA title since 1992
“If you have Haley Jones on your team, you actually have three players, maybe three and a half, who knows,” said Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma. “When you're able to put somebody like that on the floor, you shoot the ball better. You handle the ball better as a team. You pass the ball better as a team. You rebound the ball better as a team, all because of one person.
“There are not very many Haley Joneses.”
“The bigger the game, the more our team needs Haley and the more Haley steps up,” said Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer. “She has really been effective in the last two games.”
Off the floor, Jones is something of a cruise director. She pulls her teammates into her TikTok videos. Heck, she even convinced VanDerveer to appear in one during Pac-12 Media Day last October. She is a social director, a game organizer, and a dance teacher. Case in point: last weekend’s “Electric Slide” celebration of the Cardinal’s win in the Elite Eight, in which she taught VanDerveer and her teammates the dance in the days leading up to the Regional Final...just in case they needed to break it out.
Jones said she got her skills as an organizer from her mother, who “always talked about being someone who includes others. You never want to be on the outskirts of a group or be the one excluded, so I try not to ever be that type of person.”
It’s a gift that translates on the basketball court beautifully, where Jones’ multi-dimensional skill set has been on display on all season on the way to being named the Pac-12 Player of the Year and Stanford’s first AP first-team All-American since Chiney Ogwumike in 2014.
“Haley is an incredibly talented basketball player,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “She just has great vision. Sometimes she really might see things that other people don’t even know are happening.
“She controls the game a lot because she can have the ball in her hands, and she’s a very unselfish player. But she also knows when to take her shots and assert herself in the game.”
Jones has taken on more leadership this season with the departure of point guard Kiana Williams.
“I’ve tried to learn from (seniors) Lexie (Hull) and Anna (Wilson) and Alyssa (Jerome), how they did it last year and year before, so I’ve been trying to learn from that and figure out my own style as we go," Jones said.
Jones will look around and see many familiar faces in this Final Four. Aliyah Boston from South Carolina, Hailey Van Lith from Louisville and Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd all played together ob the U-17 USA Basketball team that won a world championship.
“So, we were pretty good,” Jones said.
In fact, Jones showed her skills at inclusion last year in the moments after they defeated South Carolina in the semifinal game, a game decided by a missed shot by Boston at the buzzer. As Boston sobbed, Jones and Fran Belibi went straight to Boston to give their friend a hug.
“It's cool to see everybody here and we're all really good friends,” Jones said. “So cheering them on, but also want to beat them.”
Because inclusion only goes so far.