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.
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 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.