April 8, 2024 

Why Brown’s Kyla Jones chose Northwestern for her graduate year

Graduate students can’t play in the Ivy League, so Jones found a great fit close to home

On March 29, Brown senior guard Kyla Jones announced her commitment to Northwestern as a graduate transfer. There was no list of finalists, Jones later told The Next, despite her having no shortage of interest. Sometimes, the fit between player and program is just that clear.

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Jones, a First Team All-Ivy selection this season, has a year of eligibility left because the Ivy League canceled her freshman season in 2020-21 due to COVID-19. But graduate students aren’t allowed to compete in the Ivy League, so Jones has to transfer for her final season.

She was looking for a high-major program with a style of play and team culture that were good fits for her. Northwestern checked all those boxes, and, as a bonus, the campus is about 45 minutes without traffic from Jones’ home in Chicago.

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Jones entered the transfer portal for 2024-25 back in December, and the first few days were hectic as many coaches reached out. “She’s gotten a lot of attention, which she deserves, and she’ll have plenty of options,” Brown head coach Monique LeBlanc told The Next in February.

Jones continued to engage with schools over the following few months, with new teams expressing interest regularly. Her recruitment was another thing to balance on top of schoolwork and her current basketball season, but her coaches at Brown and from earlier in her career helped her figure out what she wanted to do. “Everyone was super helpful,” Jones said, “and I think that took a lot of stress out of the process for me.”

LeBlanc said she helped screen schools according to Jones’ parameters rather than giving every coach who asked Jones’ number. That reduced the number of coaches Jones had to turn down herself.

Jones started to narrow down her list in February, wanting to reach that point before the window opened in March for undergraduate transfers to enter the transfer portal and play immediately next season. Around mid-February, she had a feeling that she’d end up being a Wildcat.

During Jones’ recruitment, Northwestern’s whole coaching staff was often on calls with her, which helped reinforce the Wildcats’ high level of interest.

“They were very adamant and persistent, and it made me feel like they truly wanted me a part of the program,” Jones said, “and not just calling just to call.”

And with good reason: Jones ranked third in the Ivy League this season in scoring at 17.1 points per game. The 5’9 guard also averaged 4.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.6 steals per game and shot 45.7% from the field. Each of those marks ranked in the top 10 in the league except for rebounds, which ranked 16th. She led the Bears to a 16-11 overall record, good for the program’s best winning percentage since 2005-06. They also tied for fourth place in an extremely competitive Ivy League at 7-7, just two years after winning only one conference game.

Brown guard Kyla Jones pumps her right fist to celebrate a game-winning shot. Her teammates around her are beaming.
Brown guard Kyla Jones (2) celebrates making the game-winning shot against Penn at the Pizzitola Sports Center in Providence, R.I., on Feb. 17, 2024. (Photo credit: Brown Athletics)

Jones hopes to help Northwestern pull off a similar turnaround. The Wildcats made the second round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament and had a winning record again in 2021-22, but they went 9-21 in each of the past two seasons. They won a total of six Big Ten games in that span — and the conference is poised to get even tougher. USC and UCLA, both top-two seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament, are among the teams joining the Big Ten next season.

“I thought they were a team that was better than what their record was showing [this season],” Jones said. “And I felt like that was a program I could come into and have an immediate impact and sort of help take them back to where they were not too long ago.”

Jones’ separator offensively is her ability to get to the rim. She has top-end speed and an elite change of speed, making it exceptionally difficult for defenders to keep her in front of them.

“One of [our] announcers these past couple years has called her slippery, which I think is so true,” Brown senior guard Charlotte Jewell told The Next in early March, before Jones announced her decision. “… She gets where she wants on the court, even if you force the issue.”

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Over the years, Jones has also become more comfortable passing, driving with her nondominant right hand and shooting 3-pointers, which have combined to make her much more versatile offensively.

“Teams will still sag off of her and stuff, but she’ll hit a few threes and make teams play her out there,” Jewell said. “Which is like, I don’t know how you’re supposed to guard her. Like, I feel bad for them.”

Jones’ offensive skill set should help shore up some of Northwestern’s weaknesses from last season. The Wildcats shot 3-pointers well, but they were inefficient on 2-pointers. Only 29% of their shots came at the rim, a below-average share nationally, and they made just 35% of their shots in the paint. Jones lives in the paint and at the rim — she took nearly 83% of her shots from those areas this season — and scores efficiently there.

Related reading: Why you can’t blink if you’re trying to stop Brown’s Kyla Jones

Defensively, Jones has been one of the Ivy League’s best ball thieves over her entire career with her quickness and anticipation. That was something LeBlanc noticed about her in their first drills together in spring 2021. A teammate would pass fake, and still Jones would deflect everything.

That’s great news for Northwestern, which allowed the most points per 100 possessions of any Division I team and averaged just 5.9 steals per game last season. The Wildcats played man-to-man defense on 57% of their possessions and zone on 43%, and Jones is adept at both. She played her first two seasons at Brown mainly in a two-three zone and this past season in man-to-man.

“For her, it’s been a pretty seamless transition [between defenses],” LeBlanc said in February. “I think she still is able to read certain situations. … She’s somebody who has good instincts and can make plays defensively.”

Jones will head to Evanston, Illinois, in June for summer workouts with the Wildcats — the first of her career because Ivy League schools don’t allow them. She’ll also begin a master’s degree then, likely in information design and strategy. In the meantime, she is training on her own and playing occasional pickup games with her Brown teammates as she prepares to graduate May 26.

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Jones will be the 13th Ivy League alum to play as a graduate transfer at a Power Six school since 2021 — an average of more than three per season. Fellow First Team All-Ivy players Kaitlyn Chen from Princeton and Jordan Obi from Penn are also likely to play for Power Six schools next season.

After that, though, the Ivy League fountain of graduate transfers will dry up, as the class of 2024 was the last to be impacted by the canceled 2020-21 season. Going forward, players will have additional eligibility to use only if they graduate early or miss an entire season due to injury or other circumstances.

In the past few years, Jones has kept tabs on some of the conference’s top graduate transfers, including Princeton’s Abby Meyers playing for Maryland in 2022-23 and three Ivy Leaguers playing for USC this season.

“I definitely watched all the games of any of the Ivy League players I could. Especially with all the attention USC was getting, I feel like it was hard not to pay attention,” Jones said. “But I wouldn’t say that they had any specific influence on what schools I was deciding to go to. But … it was fun to watch all of them go on and do big things.”

Jones is next in line to do big things in a power conference, as the Big Ten will get to see what the Ivy League struggled to contain for three seasons.

“I probably have never seen someone who can get so in the zone but [stay] so calm while she’s doing it,” Jewell said. “When she is in one of those modes, it’s absolutely insane.”

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Written by Jenn Hatfield

Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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