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Haley Jones prepares for different role with title-chasing Stanford

Haley Jones celebrates with Lexie Hull in the first half of Stanford's 2022 semifinal loss to UConn. (Elsa/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES — Two seasons ago, Haley Jones was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player after guiding the Stanford women’s basketball team to a national championship. This year, fresh off falling to UConn in the Final Four in April, the rising senior said her offseason has been focused on ball-handling and shooting from the perimeter.

As opposed to switching between playing in the backcourt and frontcourt, as she did her first three years at Stanford, Jones expects to embrace a heavier guard role in 2022-23.

“This year, I’m going to be a guard 90 percent of the time,” the 6-foot-1 Santa Cruz native said.

Last season, Jones led the Cardinal with 3.7 assists per game, despite not being the team’s primary point guard. She also averaged 13.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per contest.

Jones’ ability to play each position on the court led Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer to compare her to NBA legend Magic Johnson. As a kid, Jones’ parents would often encourage her to play all five positions, telling her that if she could do so, there would be more playing time for her. She said continuing to build every aspect of her game will allow her to find a role on the WNBA team that drafts her next year.

Incoming UCLA freshman point guard and 2021-22 Gatorade Women’s Athlete of the Year Kiki Rice, who began watching Jones during her freshman year in college, said she was always drawn to playing with her.

“She’s extremely versatile,” Rice said about Jones. “Her ability to affect the game in so many ways is impressive. I’m really impressed by her passing ability. She has a point guard’s vision and IQ but can also play inside.

“I know there are going to be some fun matchups playing against Stanford this year.”

While the rest of the Cardinal’s schedule has yet to be announced, college basketball fans are in for an early-season treat on Nov. 20 when Stanford takes on reigning champion South Carolina.

The Cardinal will bring a top-five freshman class to those matchups, a group that includes No. 1 recruit Lauren Betts of Grandview (Colo.). Jones describes them as coachable.

“What I like most about them is they seek help from the older players,” Jones said. “They’re constantly asking, ‘What can I do better? What are the reads you’re making? And can we work extra?’ Them being that way is going to help our team chemistry, but also help them individually down the road.”

This offseason has been Jones’ first running the point full time, and she’s relishing being a mentor to the two incoming point guards, Indya Nivar and Talana Leopolo.

“Now, all of a sudden, I’m in the leadership role, and I’m the old one,” Jones said. “Last year, I still felt like a freshman as a junior. It’s a different role to take on. It’s been really cool to be able to mentor the younger players.”

The newfound mentor is part of one of the strongest senior classes in the history of women’s basketball, partly as a function of some players taking advantage of a fifth year of eligibility due to the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season.

Jones named South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston and Zia Cooke as well as Virginia Tech’s Ashley Owusu as fellow natural seniors she expects to be elite professional prospects next year. As for the fifth-year seniors, Jones acknowledged 6-foot-7 Oregon forward Sedona Prince and Iowa State sharpshooter Ashley Joens.

“Our class is kind of stacked,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of depth in next year’s draft class, a lot of players who can make impacts in the WNBA next year.”

Joshua Fischman is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering Angel City FC and the Los Angeles Sparks. He has covered basketball for Vantage Sports and Hoops Rumors and served as co-host of “On the NBA Beat” podcast. Joshua received his master’s in Sports Media from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @SportsCommsJosh.