Women In Sports: Former UConn and WNBA star, Asjha Jones
Piscataway native Asjha Jones spoke to Double G Sports about her storied basketball career.
Asjha Jones is one of the most decorated athletes to have ever come from New Jersey. Jones, a 2018 New Jersey Hall of Fame inductee, was born and raised in Piscataway. At the age of 11, she began playing AAU basketball and eventually became a McDonald’s All-American.
A highly recruited player out of Piscataway Township High School, Jones chose college basketball powerhouse UConn to play her collegiate years over local schools such as Rutgers.
“The biggest down part (of attending Rutgers) was that it was in my town,” said Jones to Double G Sports. “I wanted to leave, and I wanted to go away. I didn’t want to go too far, but I knew if I wanted to grow as a person, I needed to get away from my family and become an adult on my own.”
In her four years in Storrs, Jones helped lead UConn to two national championships in 2000 and 2002. Jones was one of the leaders of a team that included Sue Bird, Tamika Williams Swim Cash and Keirsten Walters in one of the most prolific recruiting classes ever. Including the two with Jones, UConn’s women’s team has won a record 11 national championships as they have become a model program for both men’s and women’s sports.
Many believe however that Connecticut’s success is terrible not just for women’s collegiate sports but collegiate sports in general. Jones, the 2002 Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player, feels differently about that view.
“I think that’s nonsense. I think that’s something that comes to women’s sports. No one ever says that about men’s basketball or men’s sports. How can you say someone is bad for something when they are doing excellent and are excellent at what they do? I think it’s a knock to women’s sports in general because they would never say that a men’s program.”
Asjha was selected fourth overall in the 2002 WNBA Draft to the Washington Mystics. Her entry into the league came at a time where the league was beginning a transition. The stars of the original WNBA such as Cynthia Cooper, Rebecca Lobo along with others were either retired or winding down their careers. Jones was among the new crop of stars that came in to inject new blood into a league that was still in its infancy at that time. For someone like Jones who came from the college game and a major program, there was an adjustment period at the professional level.
“My class (Class of 1998) was the first class entering college who could aspire to play in the WNBA. We’re the first ones that actually had that goal, so you had something to work for. Coming in, it was a big difference and a shock. When you’re playing in college, most schools have money for travel, and we’re on private planes. When you come to the WNBA, it’s a grind. Sometimes you play five games in eight days and you’re taking flights at 5:00 in the morning. There’s no more of that charter or two games a week. It’s a straight grind. Now you barely have time to practice, and you just go, go go. But for the right to play in your country at the ultimate level, we do it.”
Jones also has many interests off the court. She started a shoe line called Takera Shoe Collection that features designer shoes in hard to find sizes. She has also jumped into the investment game as she is pursuing other business opportunities in the money management market as well.
“Basketball consumes so much of your time and life that we all have degrees in other things and other interests. You just want to step away sometimes and flex different muscles. I’m just trying to do different things. Meeting different people that aren’t athletes and being in different environments and a different world. It’s exciting, but it could also be scary because it’s not what you’re used to.”
“I just wanted to try different things because basketball is short lived. I retired at 35 and I have a whole life to live outside of that. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to be doing, but I want to try everything. See what I like and what I don’t like because you don’t get to do that when you’re playing. I started a shoe line and it’s still alive, it’s still kicking. I’m involved in investing and learning how to work in different private markets. I’m doing everything that I didn’t get to do that other people do because are they are not athletes. “
And does Ashja instill this same thinking into younger players that she meets?
“I do, I try. There’s just not that much money out there in the market anymore for these players. You can’t act like you’re in the NBA. You have to explore your other interests because basketball is not going to feed you for your entire life. You have to figure out how to take care of your money, how to invest and find different streams if revenue. That’s what everyone else is doing, but athletes are behind the eight-ball on that. I caught on late to that and I don’t want these guys to catch on late and be playing catch up.”
Jones is now the Player Development Coordinator with the Mystics, the team that drafted her. After a sparkling career that includes a WNBA Championship, Jones believes the future is bright for the league and its crop of new stars.
“The future is bright. The NBA guys appreciate it (the WNBA) but the average joe who doesn’t play basketball is talking bad about our league. Real basketball players, they get it.”
“A lot of our college girls aren’t watching the WNBA. Their best players are NBA players. They’re not saying Brianna Stewart is my favorite player, which is crazy because she’s amazing. Why aren’t they your favorite players? I think going forward to grow the sport, and we need to break that disconnect between high school and college girls. They need to pay attention to what’s going on in the WNBA. Eventually that’s where you want to play right? Why is that not what you’re modeling your game after or what you’re watching? Why is that not your favorite thing but that’s where you want to play? We just need to grow, and I think our product will grow in the near future.”
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