December 9, 2020 

She Got Next, Episode 14: Haley Jones, Stanford

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Pepper Persley is joined this episode by Stanford’s multi-talented Haley Jones. The two discuss Jones’ basketball origin story, how she decided on joining Tara VanDerveer’s program after getting recruited by so many colleges, how she responded the the adversity of injuries, and much more. Enjoy!


PEPPER PERSLEY: Hello, and welcome to this episode of “She Got Next” with me, Pepper Persley. I’m so excited to say that the guest on this episode is Stanford University’s Haley Jones. Well, my first question for you is, there are a lot of young girls out there who want to understand what it is like playing college basketball. So I wanted to ask you some questions about that. When did you begin playing basketball and what’s your earliest basketball memory?

HALEY JONES: Let me think. I don’t know if I have an exact age for you for when I started playing. I guess my first organized league was probably being in like, fourth, fifth grade was organized league. When I was in third grade, I played on my first travel team, which was a fifth-grade team. But both my parents coached together, they were co-varsity head coaches at the local high school for probably almost 20 years. So ever since I was born, I’ve just been in the laps of my grandparents at their games. Once I just started walking, I would be sitting on the bench with them. I was their stat girl, ball girl, game’s going on, I’m the other court running around like crazy, dribbling on the sidelines at practice. So, just my first memories of basketball are just kind of being out there at practices, getting to know the girls, looking up to all of them. They were all big sisters to me. So that’s kind of my first memory of basketball, but organized playing was probably, like, third grade.

PERSLEY: That’s such a cool story, to grow up with your parents as coaches. I didn’t know that. How interesting! Thank you for sharing. So when did you realize you were pretty good at playing or when did one of your parents realize that?

JONES: Yeah, I don’t really know, I guess pretty young. So I was one of those kids, I played every single sport imaginable. So when I was super small, I grew up in a beach town. So I did junior lifeguards, water polo, swim team soccer, volleyball, baseball, basketball, I did it all. And so I never really spent too much time on one sport. But once I got into middle school, and I started playing on more competitive teams, it was kind of soccer and basketball were my two things. And then here in California, it’s weird, because in most schools, soccer will be in the spring in high school, and basketball’s in the winter. But here, both soccer and winter at the same time — soccer and basketball at the same time in the winter. So I had to choose coming out of eighth grade. And I love them both. And then my mom kind of gave me a nudge, she was like, I think you can really do something with basketball. And I was like, I don’t know, you know, I love them both., let me figure it out. And she was like, no, like, I think there’s a future there. And my club coach was like, yeah, I think you should stick with basketball. And then I kind of looked back and I found myself always choosing basketball practice over a soccer game, or a basketball tournament over a soccer tournament. So I was just kind of like, okay, this is what I want to do, I think I think it can really go somewhere. And I played my first varsity travel circuit when I was going into the eighth grade, and I didn’t do terrible. So I was like, okay, I think I think I can be pretty good. So yeah.

PERSLEY: I bet you did better than not terrible.

JONES: [laughs] I did okay, I did decent. I don’t think I was a standout. I think I did okay. I held my own.

PERSLEY: How much time did you put into your training, and what kind of work did you do during the summers when you weren’t playing?

JONES: Yeah, I mean, for me, just kind of growing up playing a bunch of different sports. That was really important for me, because I always felt like if I spent too much time on one thing, and kind of working out every day at this one thing, I would get burnt out. And I think that that happens with a lot of people with like, from such a young age, you’re only doing this one thing and you’re like, this is meant for me and you’re like six years old, like you’re gonna get burn out at some point. So, for me, I always try to have off-days within the week. And you know, even if I’m doing basketball training five days a week, probably, I’m not doing the same thing every day, or else I’m going to get tired of that. So like, some days, I’m going to try to you know, lift, condition, I’m gonna work on shooting. Another day, it’ll be ball handling, and then like, some days it’ll be, like, fun stuff, like, me and my brother are gonna go to the park and today’s shooting is, I’m gonna have a competition. It’s gonna be fun, it’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be something like this to actually keep me engaged, keep me going. So I think with me during the offseason, I just try to keep myself just kind of like, I don’t want to burn out, so I just want to keep myself, you know, working out. It’s not every day. Some days for conditioning, I don’t want to go run on the basketball court, I’m gonna go swim. I’m gonna go — I live near the beach, I’m gonna go paddleboard and then I’ll get my arms workout. Like, I’m always trying to find different, unique ways to stay in shape or just kind of keep basketball-type workouts in different settings just to keep me on my toes, keep me engaged, keep me motivated, different things like that. So my summer times are probably very different as far as basketball training, even though I still am getting in the gym, getting shots up and things I want to do every day. But I just like to keep it unique and I have my own style and approach to it.

PERSLEY: Well, that’s so cool. Thank you for that insight.

JONES: Mm-hmm.

PERSLEY: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to a young girl who wants to play basketball at a college level?

JONES: I think the best advice I heard was from one of my AAU coaches at a young age, and it was, if you’re really trying to, you know, make it to the best level, the top level, be an elite player, it’s — you can’t just stay the big fish in a little pond, you have to be the big fish in the biggest pond. So I know that for me, staying in the small beach town of Santa Cruz, California, like, that wasn’t gonna get me to where I wanted to be. So I started playing on travel teams that traveled outside the area, I went to a high school that was one of the best high schools in California for basketball. And so I was able to, you know, kind of get my name out there, play the best competition. From a young age, I always wanted to play on the teams with girls older than me so that I could be the best around the girls older than me, so by the time it came where I’m playing the girls my age, I was already, you know, years ahead. Like, I’m already used to playing girls bigger, stronger, faster. So now I can really be elite in my own level. And then I got the opportunity to play on the Nike EYBL team. So like, those are all the other best girls across the country. So just constantly challenging yourself will make you better, and you want to play the best to be the best. So you’re not going to become the best playing in some rinky-dink league, you know, you’re going to become the best by putting yourself in uncomfortable situations where, you know, maybe one day you’re going to get shown up and you’re going to get beat, but you have to learn from that and just kind of use that as motivation to get better. So that’d kind of be my advice. Don’t be afraid to get shot up. Because then, you know, like, I know, when I was younger, and I was playing girls, I would get beat and it sucks. But like, you don’t want to talk about it on the car ride back with your mom. I’m like, Mom, I gotta wait a day, I’ll talk to you tomorrow, we break it down. I’m like, okay, like, she got me on this move. I want to incorporate that into my game. So you play all these other great players. And then you can just kind of take different things that they do and add it to your own game. So yeah.

PERSLEY: That’s some great advice. I honestly — I think I’m gonna take that into my own play. Because I feel like I’ve been a big fish swimming in, like, the small pond. So thank you for that advice.

JONES: Of course.

PERSLEY: What was it like to be the No. 1-ranked high school player in your perspective?

JONES: Yeah, for me, I’ve never really been a big rankings girl. So like, yeah, of course, like, I was honored, it felt amazing. Like, thank you so much, like all this stuff. But like, on a day-to-day basis, it really doesn’t affect you. You’re just kind of, you’re still living your life, it doesn’t change you in any type of way. I think the only thing it did for me was it just gave me more motivation to continue to widen the gap between me and the rest of my competition. Because whenever you get that No. 1 spot, it just creates a big target on your back. And so now, everybody’s gunning for you, they want to beat you, they want to get that spot, they want to show you up whenever you play them. So you have to be prepared. So it’s really just like once you kind of get there, it’s not like, okay, I’m here, now I can relax. It’s, okay, I’m here, now I gotta keep pushing to stay here. So I think for me, it was just a great source of motivation.

PERSLEY: It’s the motivation. Motivation is so important. You had some of the country’s best programs like UConn, Notre Dame, Oregon and South Carolina recruiting you, and you chose Stanford. Why did you think Stanford was the school for you?

JONES: I think it’s a lot of factors for me. But what it came down to is, I’m a big people person. So the people that I’m surrounded with, in most situations, they heavily affect how I’m going to feel there, or just kind of how I’m going to do. So like, if I’m in a situation and I’m not really enjoying myself with the people around me, it’s really gonna bring down my mood, it’s gonna be hard for me to want to play for the people around me, different things like that. And so, I really — I took all five officials with those schools that you just mentioned. And so just kind of each visit, I really wanted to spend time with the staff and a lot of time with the players because I didn’t really realize, but once you get to campus, and you’re with your team, you’re spending 90% of your time with the girls on the team. And so you really have to really like them honestly, to spend that much time with them. So I think on my Stanford official visit, I really just had immediate connection with them. I felt at home, I felt like it was really a true sisterhood that I could join and just have a great time. So I think for me along with, you know, the academics, playing for Tara, being close to home, just so many different factors. But I think the one that standed apart from the rest was just the relationship that I created with the girls on the team.

PERSLEY: It’s interesting that the main factor that you have is, like, being with the teammates. I found that very interesting. So thank you for sharing. I focus on the WNBA, so I’ve never really asked anyone this question. So I’m going to ask you: How do you balance school and basketball, especially at a school like Stanford, and what are the challenges that come with being a scholar-athlete?

JONES: Yeah, I think it all really just comes down to your time management. So we talk about it a lot, just, school is going to be as hard as you make it to be. So if you’re on top of your work, and you’re getting things done, [inaudible], stuff like that, it’s, it’s not going to be too crazy. And that, just kind of wherever you go, I think one of the challenges of being a scholar-athlete is you want to have it all being a student-athlete, you know, you want to excel on the court, you want to excel in the classroom, but you also still need to have a social life because your life can’t just be basketball and schoolwork. You need to make friends — I mean, you already have your built-in friends with the team, but you’re going to need escape, you need friends outside the team, you need a social life. So it’s really just finding a way to create a healthy balance. Because you’re a whole person, you know, like, you’re not just a basketball player. Like, I have needs outside of basketball that I need to do, like, I need my social time, I need time to just be by myself, like I’m a whole person. So I think just finding a healthy way to balance all your needs will help you excel in everything that you want to do and help you succeed and everything that you want to do.

PERSLEY: Thank you for that answer. You play for legendary Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer, as you mentioned recently. Even though you’ve only been at Stanford for two years, can you tell us what it’s like to play for her?

JONES: It’s amazing. I think that a lot of people kind of have this, like, idea of the type of — who Tara is, and you know, very cool, calm and collected. And so she is, but also, she has so much energy that she brings to practice. And everybody has a different relationship with her. But we’re all very close to her. So like, when she gets on you, because not every day is going to be easy, and you don’t just want to kind of glide through practice, you want her to get on you to make you the best player that you can be. And so when she does yell at you, and you’re having a hard day, she’s on you all the time, you know that it’s coming out of a place where she’s made great players before you, she wants to make you great, and she wants to see you succeed at the highest level and reach your full potential. So I think that she does a really good job kind of bonding with each of her players in every different way that each player needs because we’re all different. So it’s great, you know, she has an insane knowledge of the game. You know what she’s done. She’s almost the, what, career wins leader, with the whole Pat Summitt thing. So like, you know, that she’s already accomplished so many things. So everything that she says, you really take it to heart. So yeah, I mean, it’s amazing. I’m happy. I’m only in year two, so I got two more to go, two and a half. So I’m really excited for that. But playing for Tara is really fun.

PERSLEY: Thank you so much for that insight. So what is it like to play in the Pac-12, with one of the best conferences in the country?

JONES Yeah, it’s awesome. Honestly. In my opinion, the best conference in the country. I mean, how many top-10 — we have four top-10 teams right now with us, Oregon, UCLA and Arizona. But that doesn’t mean that rest of the competition is easy. You know, there’s more in the top 25. And just every game, there’s such high-caliber players on every single team. So there’s really not like, whenever — so the way that we play, we play Friday/Sunday, right? So like, there’s really no off-day? Like, that Saturday, you still have to prepare. It’s not like oh, and this weekend, we can prepare more for this team and then leave the other one. Because the other one is still bringing their A game and they’re going to give you all that they got, and they have their stars on their team that are going to go to work and they’re going to battle. And so I mean, every team is just great. So it’s really fun getting to play at the highest level, every single game that we have. So it’s really fun playing in the Pac. And it’s cool because I know a lot of the girls, so like playing it’s like I’ve had the girls — most of the girls — there’s a few girls on each team that I’ve like, played club with, or I’ve seen them in high school. So it’s cool getting to like, see where everyone’s at and talk to them after the game. So it’s really cool.

PERSLEY: It seems really cool. Thank you for, like, that inside look. Because I’ve been watching the Pac-12 for I don’t know how long, and the high level of competition, as you mentioned, is amazing and so amazing to watch as well. How are you feeling now that your team is the No. 1-ranked team in the nation? I know, you talked about how rankings don’t factor in so much. But can you still talk about that?

JONES: Yeah, I think that, you know, it’s always awesome to be ranked No. 1 because it’s where you want to be, but also putting it into perspective, like it is — what’s the date, probably the first, second week of December? The season doesn’t end ’til March. So like, yeah, it’s great to be No. 1, but it really matters more where we are in March. So it’s kind of just, like I said earlier with being No. 1, there’s a big target on your back. And so now we’re gonna get everyone’s A game, every game, everyone’s coming for us, everyone wants to be where we are. So, I mean, it’s just motivation, like I mentioned earlier, and you just want to keep it and continue to improve. And Tara mentioned today at film, we’re like, it’s great to be where we are now. But we can’t be playing how we are in three weeks, because we’re not going to be No. 1 anymore. We still have to continue to improve every day, and just kind of push ourselves to the limit every day to keep that spot and try to keep it all the way through March.

PERSLEY: What great advice is that from Coach VanDerveer?

JONES: Yeah.

PERSLEY: Your squad’s offense is really, really clicking. What are the reasons for your team’s success putting the ball in the basket?

JONES: I think for us, we like to play at a really high pace. As you can probably see, we like to run a transition, we like to push the ball. I mean, we can run sets, but we prefer to just get it and go. And I think that we just play with such, like, we’re such great friends off the court, we love spending time with each other, and so we just have this great chemistry on the court. So like, we know where people like to be, we know where we like to hit shots, everything like that. So like, it’s really easy to just kind of have a feel for where everyone is on the floor. So I think that we put our teammates in their best situations the majority of the time on offense, which is awesome. Yeah, but I mean, I think that we started off the season really hot. And, what was that, two days ago, when we played Washington, it wasn’t our best shooting day, but we still found a way to get it done. If our shots aren’t falling, we’re going to try to get to the rim, we’re going to try to get o-boards, get easy shots around the rim. So I think that we’re really good at making in-game adjustments to just figure out a way to get the job done every day.

PERSLEY: Well, first of all, congratulations on being named ESPNW’s Player of the Week. What does winning something like this mean to you after missing time last season due to your knee injury?

JONES: Yeah, I mean, it means a lot. Like, I feel last year, ending the season getting cut in January before it was fully ended in — what was that, April, March — just kind of coming back this summer was really difficult. Being at home and not being able to be at school to rehab like I usually would have, probably. So just doing it from home, being away from the team, it was kind of hard to find motivation a lot. But coming back, I think I just kind of have a different mindset. You know, your freshman year, you kind of just want to make an impact whichever way that you can, you’re just kind of like doing things for the team, trying to figure out college basketball, because that’s just a different beast than high school basketball. And so now coming back, having that half a year under my belt and having a different role on the team this year, I have to be more aggressive, different things like that. It’s just kind of like a confidence booster, like okay, like, I’m back, I did everything I had to do. You know, I’m confident in how my knee’s feeling, I’m confident in just how I’m feeling. It’s just kind of like a nice reminder, like, okay, like, you’re on the right track, like, but this isn’t a time to let up. Like, I got that. Okay, I want it again. And then I want it again. And then I want to continue to improve throughout the season. And like, this isn’t like, the peak, like this is just kind of all up on the incline.

PERSLEY: Well, I’m so excited to see out there on the floor. I read that one of your favorite players is Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings. What is it that you admire about her?

JONES: Her game. I just love when you watch her play, you see how much passion she has for the game. And so she plays with such heart and soul and she’s always the heart soul of every team that she’s on. And so I just kind of want to try to bring that to the different teams that I’m on, I want to give it my all every game, you know, I’m not just — there’s no point in doing it if you’re not going to give it what you got. So, you know, I try to give my all every game and like, just, she plays with such tenacity. And she’s so versatile. So growing up, I saw her playing like, she can bring it up the floor, but she can also post you up, and she’s gonna go get the rebound and she’s gonna rebound and run, and she’s gonna go defend whoever she needs to defend, she’s gonna shoot pull-ups, pull 3s, get to the rim, she’s gonna do everything that she needed to be. And so that was just kind of always, I wanted to model my game after hers in that way.

PERSLEY: Thank you for sharing. Are there any current WNBA players you enjoy watching or learning from?

JONES: Oh, so many. I feel like with my game, I’m pretty versatile. So like, I have just like, within my team last year coming in, I look to different people for different things. So like, I’m looking to our point guard Kiana for different point guard tips, and Anna, and then on the wing, I’m looking to DiJonai and Lexie to show me the ropes. And then whenever I’m playing the post, I was looking to like, Nadia and Alyssa Jerome to show me the ropes. And so like, when I’m looking at WNBA games that I’m watching, I’m trying to take things from different players that I want to add to my own game, and what I see in myself like I see in them. So like, whenever I’m playing the point guard, I have to kind of see like, what a Sue Bird might do, or what a Skylar Diggins may do, or what a Sabrina may do, and kind of take different things and then try to incorporate it. And then I’m looking at wings, and I’m looking at like, Satou, and I’m looking at Breanna Stewart and different people like that. And then I’m trying to get some more post moves, so I’m looking at like some big posts like Tina Charles. And then you kind of see the swing players like Elena Delle Donne. So like, with different — I feel like, I’m constantly looking at a wide variety of players, just because I want to keep that versatility within my game. So I’m not really focused on like one player. But if that makes sense, that’s how I would describe my favorite players in the WNBA, I like to see people who kind of do it all, just as I do.

PERSLEY: That definitely makes sense.

JONES: Great.

PERSLEY: And last question, how’s your team handling this season with all the challenges you are facing due to COVID-19?

JONES: I mean, it’s been very difficult, especially with Santa Clara County kind of shutting down everything. So now our new home base is here in Las Vegas. So we haven’t been back to campus in a while, and we probably won’t be. But I mean, we all decided to, I mean, the people here, we decided to come back. And so our kind of motto for the season is “all in.” So with the decision being made to come back, you kinda had to know there were going to be some ups and downs, and nothing was really set in stone for the season. But every day after practice, we break with “all in.” So, you know, it’s difficult, but we’re always with each other to talk and get through it. And we want to play, so we’re going to do whatever we need to do to play. And there’s going to be challenges, and you know, we didn’t really practice a lot last week with trying to figure out where to travel and gyms being shut down and everything like that. But we just kind of know that every time we get on the court, you don’t know if it’s going to be your last time on the court for the season, so we’re really giving it our all every single time. Because, you know, if the season does get cut short again, you want to know that you’re not leaving the season with any regrets like, oh, I wish I did this, I wish I did that, you know? You leave the season saying, all right, I gave it my all, there was nothing more I could have done.

PERSLEY: Well, thank you for that answer. And thank you so much for being on my podcast. I’m so excited to be able to really chat with you today. And it’s been so amazing.

JONES: Of course. Thank you so much for inviting me, I had a great time.

PERSLEY: Thank you. Bye.


PERSLEY: Big thank you to Stanford and Haley Jones for making that interview happen. As always, you can find me on Instagram @dishwithpepper, and please tune in to my next podcast. Thank you all so much for listening.

Written by Pepper Persley

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