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WNBA rookie and podcast host Haley Jones won’t be ‘put in a box’

(Mollie Handkins/NBAE via Getty Images)

A lot has changed for Haley Jones since she graduated from Stanford and was selected by the Atlanta Dream in the WNBA Draft.

She left California after “basically growing up on the beach,” as she describes it, and started a new life on the other side of the country. She swapped a regimented student-athlete lifestyle for a professional one with more responsibilities and more free time. And she’s learning to play a new role on a new team.

But one thing has stayed the same. On and off the court, Jones is still marked by versatility. She’s never liked being put in a box, and she still doesn’t.

“I still grind, I get in the gym, I do my thing,” she said. “But having that holistic view is just a piece that makes up who I am.”

That mindset has helped Jones approach basketball with joy and a relaxed attitude throughout her career, something she admits got lost during her first couple of months in the WNBA. The process of becoming a professional requires a big learning curve, and while Jones quickly adapted to her life off the court — getting into pilates and exploring Atlanta in her free time — the basketball aspect became a challenge.

Jones says she came into training camp tense, and it took a while to shake that feeling.

“I’m lighthearted, I’m always this upbeat type of person and I like to play loose and free. That’s when I play my best,” she said. “But I think when I got to the league, I just started putting a lot of pressure on myself.”

Jones also faced outside pressure entering the draft, having to answer to critics who questioned some of the limitations of her game, including her 3-point shot. Jones averaged 21.9 percent from deep during her college career, going 3-for-32 during her senior season. So far in the WNBA, she’s gone 5-for-22 from the 3-point line.

“A lot of people did talk about what I can’t do, downsides of my game, whatever it may be,” Jones said on draft night. “I think people are going to pick and choose what to focus on, but I know what I bring to the table, and I’m excited to get to Atlanta and show them why they picked me.”

Once the season started, the sixth overall draft pick was playing with and against icons of the game, and she started to wonder where she fit in and even if she could match up at all. The entire team noticed. Rhyne Howard, who played in the USA Basketball system with Jones, and coach Tanisha Wright, who previously played in the WNBA and knew Jones had the talent to compete, rallied around the rookie. They gave her the space she needed to make mistakes and grow.

Jones remembers one game against Connecticut early in the season, when she had a bad first quarter that included turnovers on back-to-back possessions.

“I was about to have a breakdown,” she said.

Wright subbed her out, and Jones was ready to get an earful.

She didn’t get one. Instead, Wright told her to take a breath and get ready to go back in. That was it.

Jones responded by recording a team-high nine assists to help the Dream close out a road win.

Jones, the 2023 sixth overall draft pick, has gradually acclimated to WNBA life as a rookie. (Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images)

That moment helped, but it wasn’t the start of a complete turnaround for Jones. The season has been a learning process, especially as injuries have cycled Jones in and out of the starting lineup. But now, the 22-year-old guard says she’s starting to feel comfortable on a WNBA court.

“More recently, I’ve really started to feel more confident in my play, getting looser out there,” she said. “I’m figuring out what my role is.”

The Dream have played Jones exclusively at the point guard spot, a change from a college career that saw her playing all over the court. But according to the guard, the flow of offense isn’t much different.

“It’s different when I’m being picked up by like a 5-7 point guard the entire game,” she said. “But once we get into the halfcourt, I feel that same free flow that I felt in the past because of the way that our offense runs. I think anybody can really be in any spot.”

Jones is averaging 15.7 minutes, 3.9 points, 2.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game for the Dream, who are in fifth place in the WNBA standings at 15-14.

And while she continues to find her footing on the court, Jones has settled seamlessly into life in Atlanta. Like Jones herself, Atlanta has a lot going on. Every time she leaves her apartment, she stumbles upon something to do, like a farmers market and or a music festival.

“It’s really cool,” she said. “It’s just a different atmosphere. There’s an energy like, it’s just a city full of people who are hustling. It’s fast-paced. There’s something going on every day.”

Jones has also continued her podcast with The Players’ Tribune, “Sometimes I Hoop,” which debuted during her senior year at Stanford. After a brief hiatus, the podcast returned with a two-part video documentary giving a behind-the-scenes look at Jones’ draft experience.

She’s also back interviewing fellow basketball players, hosting LSU’s Annesah Morrow as a guest on the show this week.

Jones resumed her podcast "Sometimes I Hoop" last month. (Courtesy of The Players' Tribune)

Jones has always been a person who wears many different hats, and every time she turns on the mic to record an episode, she tells herself, “Time to turn on my podcast persona.” It’s an easy switch, as Jones is a natural interviewer.

“Sometimes I Hoop” is technically a basketball podcast, but it wouldn’t be a Haley Jones project if it was limited to just one thing. Now that she’s a professional athlete, basketball has to be an even bigger focus than it was in college, so Jones uses the podcast as a tool of self-expression, while also giving insight into her peers.

“Now that I’m out of school, it gives me a creative outlet and creative space to still be in the basketball world, but to talk about different things,” she said.

She may be a professional now, but basketball still isn’t the only thing in Jones’ life, and she wants to keep it that way.

“The people in my inner circle have never put me inside a box,” she said. “Obviously I think I’m pretty good at basketball, and I hope other people do as well, but the people in my life have really empowered me to try different things.”

Life may be changing for Haley Jones, but she’s always going to stay the same.

Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.

USWNT to face Costa Rica in final Olympic send-off

uswnt sophia smith and tierna davidson celebrate at shebeilves cup 2024
The USWNT will play their final pre-Olympic friendly against Costa Rica on July 16th. (Photo by Greg Bartram/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

U.S. Soccer announced Tuesday that the USWNT will play their last home game on July 16th in the lead-up to the 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris.

The 2024 Send-Off Match against Costa Rica will take place at Washington, DC’s Audi Field — home to both the Washington Spirit and DC United — at 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, July 16th. The friendly rounds out a four-game Olympic run-up campaign under incoming head coach Emma Hayes’ side, with the last two set to feature the finalized 2024 U.S. Olympic Women’s Soccer Team roster.

Hayes will appear on the USWNT sideline for the first time this June, helming the team as they embark on a two-game series against Korea Republic hosted by Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado on June 1st followed by Allianz Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota on June 4th. 

The team is then scheduled to meet a talented Mexico squad on July 13th at Gotham FC’s Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, where the Olympic-bound lineup will attempt to rewrite February’s shocking 2-0 loss to El Tri Femenil in the group stages of this year’s Concacaf W Gold Cup. And while clear roster favorites have emerged from both of this year’s Gold Cup and SheBelives Cup rosters, a spate of recent and recurring injuries means making it to the Olympics is still largely anyone’s game.

Broadcast and streaming channels for the USWNT's final July 16th friendly at Audi Field include TNT, truTV, Universo, Max, and Peacock.

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA start to serve as 2024 Olympic tryout

Clark of the Indiana Fever poses for a photo with Lin Dunn and Christie Sides during her introductory press conference on April 17, 2024
The talented Fever rookie is still in the running for a ticket to this summer's Paris Olympics. (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)

The USA Basketball Women's National Team is still considering Caitlin Clark for a spot on the Paris Olympics squad, says selection committee chair Jennifer Rizzotti. 

On Monday, Rizzotti told the AP that the committee will be evaluating the college phenom’s Olympic prospects by keeping a close eye on her first few weeks of WNBA play with Indiana.

The move is somewhat unconventional. While Clark was invited to participate in the 14-player national team training camp held earlier this month — the last camp before Team USA’s roster drops — she was unable to attend due to it coinciding with Iowa’s trip to the NCAA Women’s Final Four.

Judging by the immense talent spread throughout the league in what might be their most hyped season to date, competition for a piece of the Olympic pie could be fiercer than ever before.

"You always want to introduce new players into the pool whether it's for now or the future," said Rizzotti. "We stick to our principles of talent, obviously, positional fit, loyalty and experience. It's got to be a combination of an entire body of work. It's still not going to be fair to some people."

Of course, Clark isn’t the first rookie the committee has made exceptions for. Coming off an exceptional college season that saw her averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 4 assists per game for UConn, Breanna Stewart was tapped to represent the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil less than two weeks after being drafted No. 1 overall by the Seattle Storm. Eight years prior, fellow No. 1 pick Candace Parker punched her ticket to the 2008 Games in Beijing just two weeks after making her first appearance for the L.A. Sparks.

In the lead-up to Paris’ Opening Ceremony on July 26th, USA Basketball Women’s National Team is scheduled to play a pair of exhibition games. They'll first go up against the WNBA's finest at the July 20th WNBA All-Star Game in Phoenix before facing Germany in London on July 23rd.

While an official roster announcement date hasn’t yet been issued, players won’t find out if they’ve made this year’s Olympic cut until at least June 1st.

WNBA teams make history with 2024 season ticket sell-outs

Arike Ogunbowale on the wnba court for the dallas wings
The Dallas Wings are now the third team to sell out their entire season ticket allotment in WNBA history. (Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images)

For the first time in history, three different WNBA teams have completely sold out of season ticket plans well before the league's May 14th kick-off.

Call it the Caitlin Clark effect, attribute it to this year’s tenacious rookie class, or look to the skyrocketing visibility of veteran players across the board. But no matter the cause, facts are facts: Tickets to the 2024 WNBA season are selling like never before. 

On Monday, the Dallas Wings became the third team to sell out of season ticket memberships in the league’s 27-year history. The announcement from Arlington came shortly after the Atlanta Dream issued their own season ticket sell-out statement, also on Monday, and almost seven weeks after the back-to-back WNBA Champion Las Vegas Aces made headlines by becoming the first-ever WNBA team to sell out their season ticket allotment.   

According to the Wings, season ticket memberships will fill nearly 40% of the 6,251 seats inside their home arena, College Park Center. The club also said that their overall ticket revenue has ballooned to the tune of 220% this year, spanning not just season tickets but also a 1,200% increase in single ticket sales. There’s currently a waitlist to become a Dallas season ticket holder, a status that comes with extra incentives like playoff presale access and discounts on additional single-game tickets. 

In Atlanta, season tickets aren't the only thing flying off the shelves. The Dream also announced that they broke their own record for single-game ticket sales during a recent limited presale campaign. Sunday was reportedly their most lucrative day, with five different games totally selling out Gateway Center Arena. Individual tickets for all upcoming matchups will hit the market this Thursday at 8 a.m., while a waitlist for season ticket memberships will open up next Tuesday at 10 a.m.

"Excitement around women's sports, particularly basketball, is at an all-time high and nowhere is that felt more than here in Atlanta," Dream president and COO Morgan Shaw Parker said in the team’s statement. "We’ve continued a record-setting growth trajectory over the past three years under new ownership — both on and off the court — and 2024 is shaping up to be our best season yet."

As of Tuesday, season ticket sales revenue for Caitlin Clark’s hotly anticipated Indiana Fever debut haven’t yet been announced by the club. But if these numbers are any indication — not to mention the explosive demand for Fever away games felt by teams around the country — it won’t be long before we see some scale-tipping figures coming out of Indianapolis.

Nelly Korda ties LPGA record with fifth-straight tournament win

Nelly Korda of the United States celebrates with the trophy after winning The Chevron Championship
Nelly Korda poses with her trophy after acing her fifth-straight tour title at The Chevron Championship on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

25-year-old American pro golfer Nelly Korda secured her spot in LPGA history on Sunday, notching her fifth-straight title at this weekend's Chevron Championship in The Woodlands, Texas.

Ranked No. 1 in the world by Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings, Korda joins Nancy Lopez (1978) and Annika Sörenstam (2005) as just the third LPGA player to rack up five consecutive tour wins. She is also the third No. 1-ranked player to capture The Chevron Championship victory since the rankings debuted in 2006, accompanied by Lorena Ochoa and Lydia Ko.

The Florida native shot three-under 69 in Sunday's final, besting Sweden's Maja Stark despite Stark's valiant come-from-behind attempt in the 18th. Korda finished with a four-day total of 13-under 275, celebrating her two-stroke win by cannonballing into Poppie's Pond, much to the crowd's delight. She left The Club at Carlton Woods with $1.2 million from an overall purse of $7.9 million.

It wasn't long ago that the two-time major champion's current winning streak seemed unimaginable. After maintaining her No. 1 position for 29 weeks, Korda underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from her left arm in 2022. She returned to the course not long after, but failed to win a single tournament in 2023 before seeing a surge in form during the first four months of 2024. As of today, she hasn't lost a tournament since January.

Korda will attempt a record sixth-straight win at next week's JM Eagle LA Championship at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, where she'll vie for a cut of the $3.75 million purse.

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