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Jones eyes title for the Liberty 

On Friday, Bahamian Jonquel ‘JJ’ Jones was introduced by her new team, the New York Liberty – a team Jones requested being traded to from the Connecticut Sun.

The Liberty is an original team in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), from 1997, but has not won a title despite making four trips to the WNBA Finals. Those four trips came in the league’s first six seasons, and the Liberty haven’t been back to the finals since the 2002 season – a span of 21 years.

Jones, who was dressed sharply with a black turtleneck and a green suit on Friday, said she is looking to bring a title to New York – a city that has a rich history in basketball with Holcombe Rucker Park and National Basketball Association (NBA) teams the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets.

“The people are excited about it, and it would mean everything to me to be able to bring a championship to New York. I also think it would mean a lot to the NBA for the league and its growth,” Jones said.

Welcoming Jones to New York via social media was the Nets’ Kevin Durant, a former NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) and a two-time NBA Finals MVP.

“Jonquel,” Durant said. “Welcome to New York City. We’re excited to have you here. Can’t wait to watch you ball in the Barclays (Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York). It is going to be so much fun this summer. I can’t even wait. Much love. Welcome.”

Jones, a forward/center, had one year left on her contract with the Sun who traded for her on draft night in 2016. She was taken by the Los Angeles Sparks in the 2016 WNBA Draft and traded to the Sun on draft night. The 6’ 6” four-time all-star is excited to bring her talents and experience to New York and is looking forward to doing her part to transform that team into a WNBA powerhouse. The Liberty have lost in the opening round of the playoffs the last two seasons. The Liberty is a young team and Jones being in her prime at 29, will have a veteran role with the team.

“I think I’m going to thrive in that role. I’m extremely excited to be in that role – to be able to help the younger players and be a voice of reason. Whatever they need to talk about, I’m here and being in Connecticut, I can tell them first-hand that you may think that you have more opportunities, but no opportunity is as important as the one that you have before you right now. I think that’s going to be extremely important in getting them to understand that every opportunity matters, and every chance you get to step on the court, it’s an opportunity to play your best and the future is not promised,” Jones said.

In a three-team deal, Connecticut receives the number six pick in this year’s draft as well as Rebecca Allen from New York and Tyasha Harris from Dallas. The Dallas Wings get Natasha Howard and Crystal Dangerfield from the Liberty, and Kayla Thornton heads to New York also. 

One of those young players that the Grand Bahama native will be playing with is point guard Sabrina Ionescu – the number one pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft.

“One of the things that we talked about with the coaching staff is just me being a little bit more efficient out of pick and rolls, and I think that will open the game with me just being able to roll a little bit quicker and understand how to space it out. I think all those things are going open the court up. Obviously, like I said before, Sabrina is going to be able to create her own shots and find me in the right time, right space, and so I’m really excited about that. I think the attention that I draw is going to allow her to be able to be successful as well,” Jones said.

For Jones, the move to New York is not just about playing on the court but also an opportunity to market her brand better.

“Everything off the court, marketing-wise with it being a basketball city, I think the opportunities are endless and I think that was one of the biggest things that excited me. It’s about knowing my brand and not going away from that and understanding that it’s an area that I can go in,” Jones stated.

After a dominant season in 2021, Jones received 48 of 49 first-place votes for the WNBA Most Valuable Player Award (MVP), finishing one vote shy of a unanimous selection. She led the Sun to the league’s best win/loss record at 26-6, including a 15-1 home record at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. That year, Jones averaged a double-double at 19.4 points – fourth-best in the league – and a league-best 11.2 rebounds per game. She shot 51.5 percent from the field.

A year after turning in arguably the greatest season by a Bahamian athlete in history, Jones’ numbers took a dip in 2022. She averaged 14.6 points on 51.3 percent shooting from the field while adding 8.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game, and finished seventh in the MVP voting. However, she did manage to lead the Sun to a second WNBA Finals berth in four years where they lost to the Las Vegas Aces three games to one.

It is no secret that New York has a huge West Indian population. At the press conference, Jones mentioned that there was fish and guava duff prepared for her – something else that impressed her about the Liberty organization. She even joked that she will definitely have to be in the gym more with all the food around. Tying the West Indian community into the Liberty was one of those things that was discussed between Jones and the marketing team.

“That was one of the big things that actually drew me to New York… I could tell they took the time to think about where I was from and the communities and the people that we can impact, which is also extremely important to me. Obviously, the Bahamian Consulate General is here right now. It means a lot to The Bahamas but also to the West Indian community, so I’m all ears and I’m open to anything that we can do,” Jones said.

Jones is happy that she is in a city where Bahamians can catch a direct flight from home to see her play.

“There are a lot of direct flights so start booking your tickets,” Jones said. “The schedule is already out and we’re ready and excited to have as many Bahamians as possible. Let’s pack the house and let’s show up and be proud. I think the product that we’re going to put out there is going to be very great and and I would love for The Bahamas to be a part of that.”

With Jones, the Sun came within a game of winning the WNBA title in 2019, losing to the Washington Mystics, and within two games of winning the title last year, losing to the Aces.

The Liberty tip off the season on Friday May 19 with an away game against the Washington Mystics at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. Tip-off on that day is 7 p.m. Their first home game is set for Sunday May 21 against the Indiana Fever at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, starting at 2 p.m. They remain home for their next game that is one that Jones circled on her calendar – a battle against her old team, the Sun, on Saturday May 27. That game tips off at 7 p.m.

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Simba French

Simba joined The Nassau Guardian in 2012 as a technical producer for Guardian Radio 96.9 FM. He joined the Editorial Department as a sports reporter in 2018. Simba has covered a wide range of sports stories, including the 2018 CARIFTA in Nassau, Bahamas. Education: College of the Bahamas, BA Media Journalism

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