A basketball season seems to rush by faster than expected. Two practices and a game. Two more practices and a game. A day off wedged in there somewhere.
It’s a routine, and big details have a way of becoming a part of it. Unless, of course, it’s a matter of family.
As Maryland enters its regular season home finale on Sunday afternoon against Minnesota, it marks another milestone for the Jones family. Brionna, a senior, will have her jersey honored immediately after the game. Stephanie, a freshman who has played in all but one game this season, will be there as both a teammate and a sister.
They are believed to be the first set of sisters to play for Maryland’s women’s basketball team at the same time. And this one-year overlap in their college careers is something they’ve made it a point to savor.
“In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about that,” Brionna Jones said. “This is the one chance to play with my sister that’s guaranteed.”
It’s appropriate they would find themselves within a team at Maryland. Both of their parents were college athletes --- father Mike as a basketball player at Hartford, mother Sanciarhea in volleyball at East Texas State. One of the earliest lessons they learned was the value of being a good teammate.
That was also imparted to older brother Jarred (a fifth-year senior basketball player at Loyola) and younger brother Jordan (who plays at Mount Carmel High School in Essex, Md.). The family worked as a team as everyone chased their basketball pursuits each summer; dad would take the boys all over the East Coast, while mom would take the girls.
“Our parents being coaches, they really embedded in us the team aspect, that it’s not just all about you,” Stephanie Jones said. “You need to be able to be coachable and work with your teammates, and that’s the way to be successful.”
Mike Jones found his own coaching experiences vital to providing insight as his children embraced the game. His time as a junior college coach was especially instructive in what was necessary to mold a successful team.
“Coaching junior college, I didn’t have the greatest players, so they had to play together,” he said. “You’re only as good as your team. You can be a great player, but you can’t win by yourself. If you’re the best player and you play a certain way, your teammates are going to do what you do. If you’re going to pass it to them, they’ll pass it back.”
As involved and supportive as the Jones parents were, they didn’t require their kids to pursue any particular sport. While Brionna and Stephanie often played on the same teams (with Stephanie playing up an age bracket), there were times when they dabbled in other activities.
Eventually, though, they always found their way back to basketball.
“Our parents didn’t push us toward any one sport,” Brionna Jones said. “They let us try everything. When I was younger, I was playing basketball and said ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ My mom asked me what I wanted to do and I said ‘I want to cheer for a year.’ She’s like ‘OK, we can do this for a year.’ I tried it. I hated it. Basketball was my favorite sport, so I went back to it. It wasn’t forced or anything. It just came naturally.”
Brionna was already well into a successful career at Maryland (she ranks fourth in school history in rebounds and seventh in points) when Stephanie’s recruiting process unfolded. She was familiar enough with the program and knew she could glean some insight from her sister.
Ultimately, though, she explored plenty of options, even if other schools were skeptical she would head elsewhere.
“I mostly wanted my questions answered by coaches, not just Bri or other people because I knew her answer would be kind of biased,” Stephanie said. “I didn’t want Bri to have a major effect on my decision and she didn’t. This was completely my decision.”
Added Mike Jones: “We always let them all make their decisions. When it was her time, it was about what she wanted to do. It sounded good since it would be a chance to play again together. But I said ‘You’re going to be there three years by yourself, too. You can’t base it on that. If Maryland isn’t the place for you, don’t make that decision just to be with her. Make sure is where you want to be and where you want to play.”
She ultimately made a choice that was welcome in College Park. Brionna is averaging 19.2 points and 10.6 rebounds while leading the country in field goal percentage (68.8 percent) in her final college season. Stephanie is averaging 4.0 points and 2.1 rebounds while shooting 56.6 percent in first year in college.
“I joke with the Joneses that I want them to have about three more kids that they can send this way,” coach Brenda Frese said. “You know you’re getting the best of the best. From A to Z, they’re going to come in and work. Academics is the first priority, they know how to work on and off the court. Then from the family’s end you’re getting two parents who do nothing but support their child as well as the coaching staff. When you have that kind of support mechanism in place and there’s no questioning going on and there’s a lot of support, I think that helps.”
While Brionna could provide some insight to Stephanie on adjusting to college, she also provided a model for a less welcome development. When Brionna was a senior at Aberdeen High School, she suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in January and was still rehabbing when she arrived on campus.
Playing for the same school, Stephanie also tore an ACL in January of her senior season.
“I would say that her being here really helped me,” Stephanie said. “She let me know and understand that it’s going to be OK and that I am going to play and I am going to get there. I guess just her being here really set my mind on that and kept me focused.”
A national title would be an ideal finish to the Jones’ shared season. Maryland enters the weekend at 26-2 and tied for the Big Ten lead heading into Brionna’s Senior Day and jersey ceremony.
For Frese, who has preached about building a basketball family ever since she came to College Park, it’s a perfect story.
“A family within a family, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Frese said. “When you talk about the Jones family and everything they bring to the table as a unit, the daughters as well as the parents and the support units, it’s special. A lot of programs talk about family. We truly get to live it in terms of our day to day.”