LITHUANIA - For Alexis Jones, being associated with a USA Basketball team during the summer season is nowadays, basically routine.
The rising Duke sophomore won her first gold medal with the USA Women’s U18 National Team at the 2010 FIBA Americas U18 Championship. She captured her second gold medal the following summer at the FIBA U19 World Championship and today is striving for her third gold overall and second as a member of a USA U19 World Championship Team.
“It’s a blessing,” Jones said, “and it’s an honor to wear (a) USA (jersey) and to keep coming back every single year because I know a lot of kids who want to be in my shoes right now and can’t be in my shoes. It’s really a blessing for me to be here.”
Jones put together a stellar freshman season at Duke, which was highlighted by being named the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. In the Blue Devils’ three tournament wins, Jones averaged 17.7 points, 6.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 60.0 percent from the field and 66.7 from beyond the arc.
“Those three days were really special,” Jones said reflecting back. “We put in a lot of hard work, and we did something that I don’t think anybody believed we could do. I was really proud of my team because we came and played hard and we fought through everything.”
Two weeks before the tournament began, however, Jones had to make an adjustment. On Feb. 17, when Duke hosted Wake Forest, her teammate, point guard Chelsea Gray, went down with a dislocated right kneecap injury and was forced to miss the rest of the season. The injury saw Jones transition from playing shooting guard to taking over the team’s point guard duties and responsibilities. Although she had experienced playing the point throughout high school, playing the position in college is a whole different animal, especially so late in the season.
Shortly after she had stepped into her new role, USA and University of Miami head coach Katie Meier faced Jones and Duke in a late ACC regular season contest. While the Hurricanes earned a 69-65 upset victory over the No. 5 Blue Devils that night, Meier didn’t forget what she witnessed from Jones.
“I just noticed she’s a heck of a competitor, and when you throw a lot on her, she tries to take it in parts,” Meier said.
USA U19 teammate Kelsey Plum agrees with her coaches’ assessment and believes what makes Jones so effective is her ability to perform well in key moments of games.
“I’ve seen her play in big games before,” Plum said, “and you can see at crucial possessions she comes up with the big bucket or big pass for a bucket. That’s going to be huge when we go and play against the best teams (in Lithuania).”
Attending McArthur High School in Irving, Texas, Jones had the pleasure of playing two seasons alongside Baylor All-American and 2011 and 2013 USA World University Games guard, Odyssey Sims. The duo produced a 72-6 record during their time together and Jones credits Sims for pushing her as a player.
“I think she made me a lot better,” Jones said. “I think she made me more aggressive. She made me play hard every single game because if she was playing hard, she made you want to play hard.”
This USA U19 training camp has been a unique one for Jones mainly due to the fact that rarely has she ever been considered a veteran on a team. A gym rat growing up that always competed against older players, she admitted that it was an unusual feeling when she arrived at trials back in May and wasn’t facing older competition.
“It was kind of weird for me because I’d never experienced playing (people) in my age group. I always played older,” she said.
Also a point-guard, Plum, didn’t personally know Jones before trials in May, but was familiar with her game after having seen plenty of her on TV last season. She stated that it’s always a challenge defending Jones in practice because she presents such a wide range of capabilities.
“She has such a nice crossover, so the whole time you’re thinking, ‘don’t cross me over, don’t break my ankles because coach will have it on film,” Plum said. “She’s just real crafty.”
Interestingly, Meier was a standout at Duke during her playing days and notes that she’s already joked with Jones about not passing her on the school’s all-time career assists and steals list.
“I’ve already called my staff back home and said we’re in a little bit of trouble,” Meier said. “Alexis Jones is really good. She’s really, really good.”
Already boasting a resume that features two gold medals, a high school state championship, an ACC Tournament title and an ACC Tournament Most Valuable Player award, Jones certainly can be labeled the prime example for her USA teammates to follow.
“You look up to someone like that,” Plum said.
And even with all of the above accolades, Jones understands there still is room for improvement.
“I’m learning something new every single day,” Jones said, “and I’m just trying to keep working harder to make myself a better player than what I am right now.”