As a result of the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s most dominant women’s basketball player is sitting out the 2020 Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) season.
Jonquel “JJ” Jones became the first high-profile player in the WNBA to publicly state her intentions of sitting out the season as a safety measure against COVID-19. Jones, who finished third in voting for the WNBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) a season ago, said that she looks forward to returning for the 2021 season. She signed a four-year contract extension with the Connecticut Sun in February, including a guaranteed maximum of $185,000 for the 2020 season.
The 26-year-old 6’6” post player, who led her team to a win of a WNBA title a season ago, said that she just didn’t feel comfortable enough to play. The league recently created a bubble for teams to take part in a 22-game reduced regular season in Bradenton, Florida, but the sunshine state has experienced a spike in coronavirus cases recently, apparently creating skepticism and doubt, as it relates to a 100 percent safety zone, among the league’s top stars.
“After careful thought and consideration, I’ve decided to forego the upcoming WNBA season and use this time to focus on personal, social and familial growth,” said Jones. “The resurgence and unknown aspects of COVID-19 have raised serious health concerns that I do not feel comfortable competing in.”
Jones said this was one of the toughest decisions that she has made in her professional career to date. She is a four-year professional player and the leader of the Sun. Jones led the team in points, rebounds and blocks last season. She is recognized as one of the top female basketball players in the world. Jones averaged 14.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and two blocks a year ago – 12th in the league in scoring, leading the way in rebounds for the second time in her four-year career, and tied with Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury for the lead in blocks. Jones shot 44.8 percent from the field and 30.9 percent from three-point land. She raised her level of play in the playoffs, averaging 17.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. She is a two-time all-star, a two-time All WNBA second team member, a WNBA All Defensive Team first team member and has won both the league’s sixth woman and most improved player awards.
“I’d like to thank the Connecticut organization, my teammates and fans for their unwavering support and understanding. While I won’t be competing this year, I’m looking forward to lacing up with my teammates in 2021 and continuing the pursuit for a WNBA championship,” she said. “I’m wishing the entire league and everyone involved a healthy and enjoyable season. Go Sun!”
The league has stated that the environment surrounding the IMG Academy in Bradenton, where the games will be played, will be as safe and secured as it could possibly be, but players are still given the freedom to make their own decisions regarding their decisions to play. Under the current format, each team would play all 22 of their regular season games at the IMG Academy, starting in July, which would be followed by a traditional playoff format.
The IMG Academy would be the home of each of the league’s 12 teams and serve as a single site for training camp, games and housing. The league stated that its number one priority remains the health and safety of the players and staff in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. In that vein, it is working with medical professionals and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place. Collectively, they will review the appropriate health and safety protocols and make necessary changes prior to the teams arriving on site for the start of training camp and throughout the season.
Be that as it may, players still have the freedom to make their own decisions. The Sun stands behind Jones and her decision.
“On behalf of our entire organization, we fully support JJ’s difficult decision to sit out the 2020 WNBA season during these unprecedented times,” said Sun General Manager and Head Coach Curt Miller. “We recognize the amount of unique challenges, sacrifices, and unknowns this season presents, and from the top down, there is an unwavering commitment to support each player’s respective decision. We look forward to having JJ back leading us next summer.”
On June 15, the WNBA announced plans to tip off the 2020 season, which included the single site location for the games, an update on player salary and benefits and that the season will feature a “bold commitment to social justice” in the face of the social injustice tension currently dispersed throughout the United States.
Less than a week later, Jones, who is with family in Grand Bahama, announced her intention not to play. She has yet to state her intention to return to Russian club team UMMC Ekaterinburg in the Russian Premier League this fall or to suit up for Bosnia and Herzegovina women’s national basketball team in their next scheduled game in November.
In her first meaningful game with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jones led them with 26 points on 10-for-14 shooting and added 16 rebounds in an 80-61 win for them over Switzerland. Bosnia and Herzegovina currently leads its four-team group in qualifying for FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2021. Also in the group are Russia and Estonia.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is scheduled to take on Estonia on November 12 at home and Russia on November 15 at home, but the status of those games are up in the air given the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, all FIBA (International Basketball Federation) qualifying games have been postponed.