May 30, 2023
Haley Jones is finding her own way on and off the court
'She's definitely grown since the first day we got her in camp'
“So like what time do y’all get there?” Jones asked.
At the time, Jones, still asynchronously finishing her degree at Stanford, was just weeks out from being drafted No. 6 in the 2023 WNBA Draft to Atlanta, ready to embark on a new chapter of basketball and adulthood.
Much to Jones’ comfort, her former USA Basketball teammate responded that the team usually arrives about an hour early.
“That’s similar to what we did at Stanford … So now I’m getting here, an hour early,” Jones told The Next at training camp. “It’s what you did in college, but transitioning to the pro life is hard.”
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Transitioning on the court
Although practice timing is just a sliver of the transition to the pro level and life in Atlanta, Jones’ reflection on arrival times is similar to her larger transition.
“I wouldn’t say I’m playing great. I wouldn’t say I’m playing bad. I think I’m playing very average, which for me is disappointing,” Jones told The Next after the Dream’s home opener. “You know something where you’re trying so hard, and it’s just not coming to fruition and you’re like, ‘Oh my God!’ I’m doing the extra time, I’m at lift, I’m doing this, and why isn’t that translating?”
Jones says she’s already had her ‘Welcome to the League Moment:’ when she got smacked square in the face and thought she almost broke her nose in the first 30 seconds of the Dream’s first home preseason game.
In the Dream’s three regular season matches, Jones averaged three rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1.6 turnovers in eight minutes per game. She has one field goal. But from preseason to regular season Jones has bettered her turnover-to-assist ratio, and according to Dream Head Coach Tanisha Wright, Jones’ trajectory is standard.
“Haley’s just still trying to get comfortable, understanding the flow of this league in this game,” Wright told reporters. “It’s hard for any rookie. I don’t care who you are, you’re now playing against, bigger, stronger, faster. The pace is different … But she’s definitely grown since the first day we got her in camp.”
At first, pace was the most challenging transition for Jones, but now as games begin, finding out how to operate best is the biggest change. Wright’s fast-paced system allows plenty of freedom, which can be bittersweet. Jones says that everything is clear in some moments, and others are filled with chaos.
“The coaches say all the time, ‘Haley, relax!’ I’ve never been… so tense all the time. I think I played my best at Stanford, like people saw, [when] I’m out here smiling,” Jones said. “Right now I feel so tense, so it’s really just like giving myself that grace to go out there and do my thing.”
During the draft process, keeping calm and blocking out the noise was also her philosophy. Many draft projections once had Jones at No. 2, but she was eventually drafted at No. 6.
“I think I’m drafted where I’m supposed to be,” Jones told media on the first day of training camp. “I don’t see it so much as like ‘Oh, I slipped now I need to go do this and that.’ I have the same drive no matter if I was the number one pick, 15th pick, whatever.”
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Support is everywhere
Jones says the coaching staff and her teammates have been the key to finding the calm. From the moment she was drafted, she expressed glee in joining Atlanta’s developing organization and has taken to Wright’s style, citing that the “coaches are people you want to work hard for.”
“Her IQ is super high, and I think my favorite part is that she’s okay with laughing at herself,” Hillmon told reporters. “It’s one thing to gain the knowledge, but to take it in and then change it is huge. And I think that you can see that in her game.”
Her Dream teammates call her a “sponge,” ready to absorb and ask as many questions as possible. Jones sheepishly explained she asks fellow guard AD Durr a question “like every possession.”
From Mitty to the A
But perhaps the most special connection is her relationship with 12-year veteran Danielle Robinson, and fellow Archbishop Mitty High School alum.
“Every day at practice in high school I saw D-Rob up on the wall so now that I get to join her on a team with a Mitty legend is hard to describe really,” Jones said on draft night. “She’s someone I looked up to, she was the first Mitty legend in the women’s basketball program.”
Jones admitted that in high school, she never imagined a pro career, much less sharing a locker room with her Mitty idol. However, Robinson was always acutely aware of her potential.
“Whenever she was at Mitty, I was making sure if I was home that I was trying to catch a game to see her in action. I would try to go to pick up and really pushed her because I saw what she had in her,” Robinson said. “It’s really crazy to be here with her … She’s gonna have a very long career in the W, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
A family affair
And the support extends far beyond the court. The moment Jones heard her name called to the A, her mind jumped to the heaps of extended family throughout Georgia and the South. Next weekend, she’ll be a bridesmaid in her cousin’s wedding, a happy surprise she wasn’t sure would work out.
At the Dream’s home opener, her family was out in full force. She embraced family friends, her great aunt for the first time since high school, her parents who made the cross country trek for the first time since moving in, and former Uteammates Aliyah Boston (at USA Basketball) and Lexie Hull (at Stanford), whose Fever squad beat the Dream by three points. But the Jones crew is no stranger to the WNBA. Haley’s cousin Delisha Milton-Jones played nearly 500 games in the league from 1999-2015.
Even though family, friends, and teammates surround Jones, this is her first time living outside Northern California. Jones says the three-hour time difference has already been an impediment, especially when she receives calls from her mother while she’s fast asleep.
Jones spent four years at Stanford, winning a National Championship and working her way up to a senior leader of the Cardinal squad, and in Palo Alto, everyone was taken care of: from her schedule, to nutrition, to friends.
“I think for me I’m used to going places in groups but I’m learning every now and then [to do a] solo date,” Jones said. “There’s places where you can go and do a paint and something with a random group of people and you just chat and make friends. I want to start doing more of that.”
Like every young person moving to a new city, rookies joining the WNBA come with new ‘adulting’ challenges, alongside the transitions on the court. Jones says she hopes to continue to explore Atlanta and like most, hates the traffic but loves the food.
But one of the easier Palo Alto to Atlanta transitions is the arena atmosphere. Gateway Arena, which sold out its first game to a raucous crowd, boasts traditions like the ‘Swag Surf,’ Atlanta-specific music, and signature soundbites.
“Stanford games aren’t like this. Maples is very different from here at Gateway,” Jones said after the home opener. “It’s just very Atlanta when you’re here … I think it definitely influences the way the game goes. The atmosphere is special here.”
And in a few short weeks, Jones will graduate from Stanford with a Communications degree.
“I’m about to get my little diploma, be out the door. I’m a Stanford grad, not very many people can say that. It’s very exciting. My parents are excited,” Jones beamed.
And with at least 37 WNBA games remaining this season, including one Tuesday, Jones has plenty of time to grow into her own, both on and off the court. And per the prediction of her teammates, this season will be far from the end.