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A Leap of Faith

Jordan Jones leads the Aggies into SEC play after overcoming off-season knee surgery

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When Jordan Jones is on the basketball court, the look in her eyes is unmistakable. With equal parts determination, guts, fearlessness and focus, the senior point guard of the Texas A&M women's basketball team attacks the opposition with a tenacity and aggression that has made her a fan favorite at Reed Arena.

Those traits are just some of the reasons why she has built a reputation as one of the most ferocious defenders in the nation and perhaps the most steady point guard in the rugged Southeastern Conference.

Jones' time on the court regularly serves as a great example to her team--and any aspiring players watching in person or on television--about the kind of attitude many great players possess.

Yet, eight months ago, Jones was paralyzed with doubt, fear and pain.

Last May, as she spent another morning in the athletic training room inside the Bright Football Complex, her unwavering gaze was fixed on an object on the floor in front of her.

Jones, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and lateral meniscus in a game against Missouri on Feb. 26, 2015, was in the midst of enduring an arduous rehabilitation process with the hopes she would be close to full strength in time for the Aggies' season-opener in mid-November.

Her recovery had been marked by small victories since her surgery on March 14. Walking, jogging and riding a stationary bicycle were all advances toward being back on the basketball court. But on this particular day, all of her progress came to a screeching halt.

The object of her attention that morning might as well have been Mount Everest.

In reality, it was a single step raised about eight inches off the floor.

Matt Kee, Texas A&M athletics' rehabilitation specialist, had given Jones some instructions that, to many, would have seemed rather mundane and boring. Jones' task was simply to jump up onto the step. The catch was that she would be allowed to only use her injured leg. Kee knew Jones' leg was strong enough for the exercise, but Jones wasn't so sure. What if she couldn't jump high enough? What if she landed awkwardly, resulting in another debilitating ACL tear?

The questions were enough to stop Jones dead in her tracks.

Thirty seconds ticked by. Then a minute, which was followed by several more.

Finally, Kee broke the silence.

"I don't care if you want to stare at this step for the next hour, but we are going to do three sets of 10 of these," he said. "If you want to look at it for the next five minutes, that's fine. But let me know when you're done, because then we're going to go to work."

The matter-of-fact tone in which he spoke struck a chord with Jones.

According to Kee, one of the most important facets of the rehabilitation process is for the specialist to ensure his patient has confidence that he or she will succeed. If it took a little tough love to get the point across, then so be it.

Jones shifted her gaze back to the step, gathered her thoughts and took a deep breath.

Then, she jumped.

 

RACING TO THE CONCLUSION

Senior Jordan Jones plans to attend law school after completing her career at A&M. But first, the All-SEC selection wants to help push the Aggies deep into the NCAA Tournament. She is currently second in the SEC in assists and will soon be third all-time at A&M.

"WE NEED A MIRACLE"

Few players in Texas A&M basketball history have been as important to their team as Jordan Jones has been to the Aggies the last three seasons. Certainly, Danielle Adams was a catalyst to the national title run in 2011, and players like Lisa Branch, A'Quonesia Franklin, Lisa Langston and Takia Starks are lauded as some of the school's most impactful players.

But Jones truly is the straw that stirs the maroon and white drink.

The reigning two-time SEC defensive player of the year, Jones has been one of the league's most intimidating figures since her second season in Aggieland.

After piloting the Aggies on an Elite Eight run as a sophomore in 2014, the Aggies were again cruising toward the postseason last February. A&M was ranked 12th in the nation heading into a home game against a middling Missouri squad. One week prior, A&M had upset No. 10 Kentucky in Lexington, setting the stage for the Aggies to finish the regular season near the top of the league standings.

Unfortunately, the team's direction shifted dramatically against Missouri.

Jones started the game at point guard, just like she had for the 27 previous games that season. She was in the midst of a strong first half, chipping in seven points, two assists and one steal in the first 15 minutes.

After A&M made a basket, Jones retreated to midcourt to play defense. Jones planted her right foot to engage a Missouri player, and immediately crumpled to the court in pain.

The 6,733 inside Reed Arena instantly fell quiet as A&M's medical personnel rushed to her side. The only audible sounds during the five minutes Jones lay on the court were her occasional cries of pain that seemed to fill the entire arena.

As she was carried off the court, one thought continuously ran through her mind.

"I just don't want to be done," Jones recalled. "That was the one thing going through my head. I had never felt anything like that before, so it was a new feeling, and I knew it was probably something pretty bad."

Without Jones on the court, the Aggies wilted late against Missouri. The Tigers stunned the Aggies with a three-pointer at the final buzzer to claim a 70-69 win.

In the post game press conference, the solemn look on coach Gary Blair's face told the story.

"She went down, and my heart went down with her," Blair said to reporters. "Generally, you know (what the injury is) when those things happen. We need a miracle at the hospital in the morning."

There was no miracle. Tests the next day confirmed the torn ACL and meniscus. The Aggies never recovered. A&M lost four of its final five games, including a shocking first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament to unheralded Arkansas-Little Rock.

Jones had surgery the following week, which set in motion a series of events that eventually culminated in her rehabilitation session stare-down with the eight-inch step.

Road to Recovery

Rehabilitating a significant injury for a standout athlete can be more of an exercise in psychology than physiology. Many athletes don't know quite how to cope with having their lives altered in such a dramatic fashion, with ultra-competitive practices and games suddenly replaced with using crutches to limp down a hospital hallway.

Dedication and desire are two required intangibles for a successful return to the court or field. Jones has shown plenty of those characteristics during her career in basketball.

Blair is quick to point out that it's not easy to be his point guard. He demands a lot from his point player, even requiring the starter to attend the post game press conference after each loss to face the sometimes tough questions about why the Aggies did not win.

"I build teams around point guards," Blair said. "It's just like what Kevin Sumlin goes through with his quarterback, or what Rob Childress goes through with a shortstop or catcher. They are going to be the face of the program. With Jordan, her being a captain the last three years for us has not been out of necessity. It's been due to the respect our team has for her and her leadership. She has a voice for us."

Her strong voice is overshadowed only by her usually-dominant play.

Jones has excelled on both sides of the ball at A&M, finishing her sophomore and junior seasons in the national top 10 in assists. In 2014, she averaged an SEC-best 7.25 assists per game and set the single-season school record with 261. She followed that up with a 6.6 per game average in 2015, and her career total of 606 assists (through Jan. 10) was just 21 shy of moving into third all-time at A&M.

But defense has long been Jones' pride and joy. She smiles when she talks about how a big steal or defensive stand can bring a crowd to its feet while shrinking the opposition into a corner.

Jones is a mainstay in the film room, where she constantly breaks down the tendencies of other point guards and dissects the other team's offensive sets.

"My goal is to not let their offense get comfortable," Jones said. "I know that I like to be comfortable running an offense, so I try not to let the other point guard have that luxury. A big part of that is studying their game. Then, you take it away from them, and they have to go into something they're not comfortable doing. "And then, you attack harder."

That mindset, which Jones said she developed in high school, also ultimately prepared her for the difficult hours, days, weeks and months she spent rebuilding her knee.

Her relentless approach to basketball is why Jones devoted her entire summer to remaining in College Station. While her teammates were spending the summer with friends and family in their hometowns, Jones made the daily trek to the rehab room in the Bright Football Complex.

"That whole process was tough," Jones said. "There were some days where the thought crosses your mind to just let the knee heal itself and you can go find something else to do with your life. Matt Kee and Radar (athletic trainer Mike Ricke) did more than just rehab my knee. They helped rehab my mind because it was faltering at times."

It certainly was last May, in the minutes after she was tasked with attempting her first one-legged jump onto the small step. Once the moment of truth arrived, Jones leapt forward.

Not surprisingly, she nailed it.

 

PLAYING WITH PRESSURE

Jones' right knee is still not 100 percent, but that has not stopped A&M's most tenacious defender from helping the Aggies hold the opposition to less than 60 points per game thus far in 2015-16. Through the LSU game on Jan. 10, the Aggies had held three teams below 40 points, including a mere 35 for LSU--the second-lowest total in LSU history.

NOW, THE ENCORE

The remainder of rehab wasn't easy, but as the 2015-16 season approached it became clear Jones would indeed be able to return to the court for the season opener on Nov. 13.

She started that night against Texas State but played just 15 minutes. Jones missed both of her field goal attempts but dished out seven assists as the Aggies raced to a 47-19 lead at the half.

A&M quickly compiled a 5-0 record to start the season, but an early December swoon found Blair's bunch at a non-conference crossroads. After a streak of losing three out of five games, the Aggies were faced with a Dec. 20 trip to play Oklahoma in Oklahoma City in what was technically considered a neutral site. The 17th-ranked Sooners were riding an eight game winning streak and were poised to deliver a knockout blow to the Aggies.

Jones was forced to the bench after picking up her third foul just 90 seconds into the second quarter. The game was tied at the time, but A&M's offense stagnated without its point guard. Oklahoma took a seven-point lead into halftime. With Jones back in the game to start the third quarter, the Aggies owned the second half. Jones helped key a stifling defensive effort that held the Sooners without a field goal from the 3:29 mark of the third quarter until there was 6:22 remaining in the game--nearly seven minutes of game time.

A&M eventually claimed a 74-68 win and received a jolt of energy as SEC play drew near.

Though Jones still isn't back to being 100 percent healthy this season, her prowess at both ends of the court is crucial for a team that has its eyes set on erasing the memory of last season's first-round NCAA exit.

Jones isn't the only member of her family to excel in college basketball. One of her brothers, Matt, is a junior on the Duke basketball team. Much like Jordan, Matt prides himself on his disruptive defense and team-first mentality. Last year, he started the final 13 games of the season as the Blue Devils captured a national championship.

Despite living in different time zones and navigating busy schedules, Jordan and Matt maintain a close relationship and count each other as best friends. Earlier this season, when Jordan and the Aggies traveled to Durham, N.C., to take on No. 14 Duke, Matt was in the stands at famed Cameron Indoor Stadium to support his sister as A&M tallied a big 72-66 overtime road win.

"We have always been close," said Jordan. "I haven't really played in front of him since high school. He's seen me on TV, but his presence and being there that night meant a lot to me."

Indeed, the presence of a Jones is always meaningful for the Aggies.

 

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2016 January

"A&M has given us so much.

When it comes down to it, education is the most important thing someone can have, and student-athletes give so much of their time and talents to our school. If we can help support them to earn that diploma and Aggie ring, then that is what we want to do."

Carol '78 and Don '78 Meyer
Champions Council Members