February 18, 2024 

Inside the Atlanta Dream’s player development approach

What rising second-year guard Haley Jones is working on this offseason

When the Atlanta Dream hired Tanisha Wright, a former 14-year WNBA player, as its head coach on Oct. 12, 2021, and began to build out its coaching staff, two words were at the forefront: player development.

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“[Player development] is probably the one thing Tanisha and I talk about the most in relation to the coaching staff,” general manager Dan Padover told the media on Feb. 16, 2022.


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It hasn’t been long since WNBA organizations lacked full-time player development coaches and trainers available throughout the year to assist players.

“It’s a great investment and allows players to grow at a quicker pace,” Dream player development coach Dale McNeil told The Next. “In years past, players weren’t focusing on their development as much, so now, having coaches dedicated to looking at what a player lacks and making that a strength.”

The Next got an inside look at Atlanta’s developmental approach with rising second-year guard Haley Jones, who turned down overseas opportunities to stay in-market, work with the coaching staff and give her body a chance to recuperate after a nonstop 2023 schedule.1

Atlanta Dream player development coach Dale McNeil pictured working with Haley Jones
Atlanta Dream player development coach Dale McNeil pictured working with Haley Jones on Feb. 15 (Photo credit: Hunter Cruse, The Next)

Behind the scenes of Jones’ offseason regimen

Jones wakes up at 7:15 a.m. before typically snoozing her alarm until 7:50 a.m. After getting out of bed, she hits a quick stretch, does her morning skin care, brushes her teeth, slicks her edges, eats a quick meal2 and brings a cup of bone broth with her in the car on the way to the gym.

Jones arrives at the Dream’s practice facility in Chamblee for 9 a.m. workouts with athletic trainer Katie Buria and teammate Nia Coffey, followed by an hour-long on-court skill development session with McNeil. 

Jones is in the weight room with Buria three days per week, practices with McNeil on the court from Monday through Friday and dedicates two days weekly to sessions with P3 Sports Science — a sports performance and analytics company specializing in biomechanical analysis and athlete development — at the Atlanta Hawks practice facility. Jones’ off-season training schedule isn’t typical for most WNBA players, as many have commitments overseas starting in the winter months.


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McNeil, entering his third season with the Dream, came to Atlanta with over 20 years of player development and coaching experience. 

“It’s huge to have a player development coach as great as Dale [McNeil],” Jones told The Next. “Not only are you working on your skillset but, since he’s on the staff, he’s in direct communication with Tanisha [Wright] and the coaches to talk about what they see from me and the skills they want me to have.

“He has all of the film from the season, so sometimes before a workout, he’ll breakdown my film and be like, ‘Okay, we saw a lot of reads for you; this is how defenders were playing you, so this is how we want to exploit that next season.’ He’ll also send me film from NBA and other WNBA players to watch.”

In a workout with McNeil on Feb. 15, Jones worked on leveraging her length3 and strength to create space and mismatches for herself as a driver.

“The focus was getting her to initiate contact coming off screens and being physical with her defender,” McNeil said.

Last season, Jones shot 32% at the rim (16 of 50) in the half-court, according to Synergy Sports. 

“A lot of what we’ve been working on in the offseason is creating space, whether that’s floaters over bigger defenders [or] using my body against smaller ones,” Jones said.

Jones has also worked with McNeil to continue building up her confidence as a shooter and smooth out her mechanics. 

“When she came to Atlanta [last training camp], she shot with a very narrow base,” McNeil said. “Now, I’ve been trying to widen her base, so she has more strength and explosion out of her shots. … By next season, I think you’ll see a quicker increase in her confidence from three and not being hesitant to do things outside of her comfort zone — which is now her comfort zone.”

Per Synergy Sports, Jones converted on 29.2% of her catch-and-shoot 3s (7 of 24) as a rookie. 

Jones to play in Athletes Unlimited

Last month, Athletes Unlimited Pro Basketball (AU) announced its roster for the 2024 season, featuring 29 players with WNBA experience – including Jones. 

“The opportunity to play with Athletes Unlimited is exciting,” Jones said. “We’ve definitely been ramping it up here, so my workouts have been more exhausting than usual to get into game shape.”

AU is a player-driven league where rosters are re-drafted each week and players earn points based on statistical performances and team success.

This up-tempo, pick-up style of play will allow Jones to explore different avenues of her game that she hasn’t been able to show to this point.

“For me, I’m using it to put all of my offseason work from the last five months together,” Jones said on what she’s hoping to gain from AU. “It’ll be really fun to show what I’ve been working on and expand my skillset, take risks, shoot more, do this and that, try different things.”

To watch Jones and Atlanta teammates Allisha Gray and Laeticia Amihere at AU, 18 of the 24 games will be streamed in the WNBA App.

Haley Jones (left), pictured alongside Atlanta Dream president Morgan Shaw Parker (right) at the Georgia State Capitol on Feb. 7, 2024
Haley Jones (left), pictured alongside Atlanta Dream president Morgan Shaw Parker (right) at the Georgia State Capitol on Feb. 7, 2024 (Photo credit: @AtlantaDream on X, formerly known as Twitter)

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Jones’ opportunities outside of basketball

WNBA player development goes beyond on-court skill development. Jones has had the opportunity to get involved in the local community, including a meeting on Feb. 7 with a bipartisan group of legislators to talk about the impact that sports participation has on young girls.

“With the Dream, I’ve gotten to go to elementary schools, talk to little kids and read books,” Jones said. “I also got to go do stuff with our president [Morgan Shaw Parker] and speak in front of people. In college, I didn’t have the time to do any of that with school, so it’s been really fun to get involved in the community.”

Additionally, Jones has continued to explore her interests in sports media. The 22-year-old made her debut as a studio analyst for NBATV during the WNBA finals, as well as her debut as a color commentator for ACC Network on Feb. 1 for a matchup between Georgia Tech and Notre Dame.

“Being in Atlanta is a great market for all of that,” Jones said. “TNT studios is literally five minutes from my apartment and Georgia Tech is right across the street from that, so I’ve been able to shadow people [in the industry].”

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  1. Jones played over 60 games from the start of Pac-12 conference play on Dec. 23, 2022, to the conclusion of her rookie season on Sept. 19, 2023. ↩︎
  2. Recently, her go-to pre-workout meal has been yogurt with protein powder, blueberries, honey and granola. ↩︎
  3. Jones is 6’1 with a 6’4 wingspan, which is well above average for her position. ↩︎

Written by Hunter Cruse

Hunter Cruse covers the Atlanta Dream and the WNBA Draft for The Next.

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