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Jonquel Jones: Raising up an MVP

The Sun forward always knew she’d find her way to the WNBA. How it happened is a testament to her work ethic and the mentors that paved the way.

The odds were against Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones making it this far.

Today, she has the Sun positioned as the No. 1 overall seed in the WNBA Playoffs and is coming off a regular season in which she averaged 19.4 points (No. 4 in the league), 11.2 rebounds (No. 1), and 1.3 blocks (No. 10) per game. But this reality must have been unthinkable when she was a young girl growing up in the Bahamas, a country that doesn’t have much of a history producing basketball talent.

Or when she struggled through her freshman season at Clemson and weighed a transfer to mid-major George Washington. Or when she averaged just 6.8 points per game as a rookie in 2016.

This week, Ben Osborne of Just Women’s Sports chronicled her rise and the community that helped her become not just one of the most dominant players in the WNBA, but the MVP of the league for 2021.

https://twitter.com/WNBA/status/1442854770574827524?s=20

There’s “Coach Yo” — Yolett McPhee-McCuin — who was Jones’ Bahamian role model that paved the way for players to succeed in the United States. Then there’s her high school coach and temporary guardian, Diane Richardson, who refused to play favorites. She even benched Jones early in her high school career as she caught up to the rest of the team.

Jones still goes over tape with Richardson after Sun games.

Jones has also cultivated a relationship with former George Washington player Lisa Cermignano, who now works for SIG Sports, the agency that now represents the MVP. On the court, she says she models her game after Kevin Durant.

KD says the feeling is mutual.

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Even before she was announced as this year’s MVP, Jones had already accomplished about as much in her first five years as any WNBA player could ever hope to claim in that span. She’s a three-time All-Star, has started every game she’s played in over the last two years, owns Most Improved Player and Sixth Woman of the Year trophies, and has led the league in rebounding three times.

Not bad for a 27-year-old dreamer from Freeport just now hitting the top of her prime.

There’s just one thing missing — the Connecticut Sun have never won a WNBA championship, and their shining star is out to change that. After a 26-6 regular season, Jones calls the postseason “championship or bust.” As she says, “There are no excuses. We have everything we need to do it.”

If the path that’s led her here is any indication, she won’t be holding a single thing back when she takes the floor against the Chicago Sky Tuesday night for Game 1 of the playoffs’ semifinal round.

Because she’ll be carrying a legion of well-wishers, teachers, and cheerleaders from the Caribbean, Clemson, Connecticut and beyond right along with her.