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Stanford’s Haley Jones on Adjusting to College, Coming Back From Injury

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The first No. 1 recruit to join Stanford women’s basketball since 2010, Haley Jones is a rising sophomore originally from Santa Cruz, California. This year, the 6’ 1 guard became the first Stanford freshman since 2001 to score in double figures in the first four conference games, before being sidelined with an injury after the season’s first 18 games. Prior to her injury in January’s game against Oregon State, Jones was named a Pac-12 Freshman of the Week three times. 

[Editor’s note: this interview took place before the Pac-12 announced it was postponing all sports, including basketball, to 2021]

What has your day-to-day looked like during the pandemic?

I ended my first season at Stanford with a knee injury, so I’ve been spending a lot of quarantine doing physical therapy and recovering from home. Basketball-wise, I’ve been able to do a little bit of on-court stuff, and I was busy with schoolwork, because I took on more units now that classes are online.

Any recommendations for good Netflix shows or fun hobbies?

Some other freshman teammates and I just discovered Netflix party. We watched season two of Dead to Me and we’ll be watching Dynasty now that it’s out. I’m trying to force my brother to watch Game of Thrones with me because that’s my favorite show ever.

As for hobbies, my mom is the greatest chef ever, so we’ve been putting all of her recipes ever into Evernote. Now I’m going to have all her recipes – I’ve been baking up a storm.

Going back a bit, how did you start playing basketball? 

My parents were varsity coaches at the local high school. I grew up being at practices, games, in the gym. Girls on the teams they coached were my role models. They would always want to babysit me, and I’d run around with them at the gym.

I played a bunch of different sports when I was younger. I did water polo, volleyball, soccer – I did everything. I started playing “real” basketball around third grade when I first played on a travel team. Most of my teammates were mostly in the fifth grade. People always ask me how I play guard when I’m so big –  it’s because I played above my age group when I first started playing basketball. Naturally, I was always the smallest on my team and had to play guard. Once I started playing for my actual age group, I became the biggest one but still had guard skills.

How else did playing above your age group impact the way you play?

Playing up always forced me to push myself. None of the girls that I ever played with ever took it easy on me just because I was younger, and that really helped build my competitive spirit. I’ve always wanted to be the type of kid that wanted to play against the best player, and playing up gave plenty of learning opportunities.

In high school you were rated as the No.1 player in the country – you’re the first No.1 prospect to sign with Stanford since Chiney Ogwumike. How did you decide to attend Stanford?

I first started getting recruited around the spring of seventh grade. By junior spring, I narrowed it down to around eleven schools. The summer between my junior and senior year, I narrowed my choices down to five schools: Notre Dame, Oregon, South Carolina, Stanford and UConn. I made five official visits and waited until the last possible day to decide to sign with Stanford.

I was the first female recruit to sign live on ESPN, which was so cool. They came  to my school with donuts with my face on it. I was like, “Oh, this is the real deal – this is my peak.”

My non-negotiable criteria when choosing a school included academics, future teammates and classmates. Everything from the coaches, to the opportunities I’d get at Stanford to the people I’d interact with on a day to day basis – it’s an experience I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

And my expectations were true for the most part. For example, my freshman roommate who I was randomly assigned to – she’s the GOAT. She has her own nonprofit organization. It’s so cool getting immersed into these different communities; At Stanford, the athletes don’t feel separated from the rest of the community. And my team is amazing. They are some of my best friends now – they’re basically family.

At Stanford, you started off with an incredibly strong first season. You were the first freshman to score in double figures in the first four conference games since 2001. What was it like to transition to college basketball?

Coming to college, everyone on your team was that player on their high school team. They were that player on the AAU team. Everyone on our team was recruited because they played at the same level as me. I was so excited to get to play with everyone, because I saw it as an opportunity to make me better. No matter who you’re guarding, it’s a challenge. You can take them – and they can take you – on every given play. I had to understand that I was going to have to be competitive to get play time. But this competition came from a place of wanting to lift each other up.

Another thing about playing at the collegiate level that was so different was the pace. Pace is a mental challenge that you have to keep at the front of your mind at all times.

You had to stop playing after the first 18 games due to a knee injury. How are you overcoming this setback?

That game against Oregon State feels just like yesterday. I went down, twisted my leg – I just remember I was trying to stand up and couldn’t put any weight on it.

I’ve never had an injury before where I had to sit out of the season for so long. At first, it just took me a bit to come to terms with why this happened. You know, why me? Why now? My teammates were there for me every step of the way. Even so, it was really hard not getting to travel with them. It was weird not being at practice all the time, because I’d be at doctor’s appointments and physical therapy.

Additionally, it was really hard changing physical therapists from Stanford to ones local to home because of the pandemic.

I don’t want to say getting injured was a good thing, because it’s not. But, I think that my injury opened up new experiences. I’ve never really been on the sidelines. I really got to understand our system from a different point of view by watching our team and our games. I really got to understand all my different teammates’ tendencies. Usually during drills, I’m just focused on myself. But now I know where my teammates like to be on the floor – I got to talk to Kiana and Lexie a lot just about different things that they’re seeing on the floor so that when I’m able to come back, I can help them carry those ideas out. I’m able to hit them at the places they want to be hit. I think when I come back, I’ll really be able to understand everyone better.

Have you been keeping in touch with your teammates since your season was cut short?

One afternoon, Coach Tara VanDerveer called us. All of us on the team got in our circle in our locker room with all our staff, and she told us it was the end for this season. Just understanding that was the last time that this special group of people were all going to be together was really hard to grasp. The moment we got out of that meeting we were all looking for flights back home. It was a really abrupt ending to the season and that special team we had.

But since returning home, we’ve had a lot of Zoom calls with the coaches, which are fun. As a team, we text and Snapchat all the time. We get on team Zoom calls without coaches just to hang out and chat. I’m FaceTiming with the freshmen every day. We send each other memes. We’re trying to start Netflix partying shows together.

Certainly there’s a lot of uncertainty today and it’s hard to make plans for the future. With this in mind, do you have goals for your collegiate career? Are any post-college plans on your radar yet?

For my collegiate career, I’m not really thinking long-term right now. I’m really just thinking about how I want to come back this year. I’m not trying to come back as the same player I was before my injury – I’m trying to be better than I was. Post-college, professional basketball has always been a dream, but you never know what’s going to happen.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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