BY JOHN WILBERT
HOLLY SPRINGS – Rachel Jones is almost never selfish with the basketball.
The lone exception: when the game is on the line and a last-second shot is needed.
“That’s a good attribute for her because you always want the ball in your hands, if you’re a money player, to go out and make that basket, that free throw or even that pass to the person that makes the basket,” said H.W. Byers girls basketball coach Jason Thompson. “She definitely wants the ball when the game is on the line.
“We try to make no ifs, ands or buts about it: When the game was tight (or) close, whether they were up or we were up, in the last two minutes of the game I wanted the ball in her hands 99 percent of the time.”
And Jones being in the control of the basketball is the main reason why the Lady Lions have held the Class 2A championship gold ball the past two seasons, and why she has been named the 2009 Daily Journal Player of the Year.
When the going gets tough
Defending a championship is perhaps tougher in a lot of ways than winning a first title, and Thompson can attest to that.
Last year, in winning the school’s first MHSAA state title in Class 2A, Thompson had a very experienced lineup.
This past season, however, Thompson had to rely on two freshmen and one sophomore to play major roles for his team. Not to mention, his Lions were going to get its opponents’ best shot in every game because teams wanted the satisfaction of knocking off the defending champs.
The end result was still the same: a 2009 Class 2A state championship and a 35-5 overall record.
And one of those players leading the charge to a second straight championship was none other than Jones.
“She was surrounded by a very young group, but what she did (was) she put in extra work with them,” Thompson said. “They would come in and practice on weekends by themselves.
“They would even go over each other’s houses and watch game film. They were always intact and in gel with what each other needed to do. They were a very together and cohesive unit.”
With a different type of player around her this season, Rachel Jones had to adjust her style of play.
“She had to do a bulk of the scoring last year because of the style of ball we wanted to play according to the type of team we had,” Thompson said. “This year I had a lot more versatility and athleticism, but just not the experience.
“So, I told her that this year that she can probably rely on those (teammates) a lot more than she had in the past, and it worked out.”
And that’s why Jones’ scoring went down from nearly 21 points per game in 2008 to almost 18 points a game this season. For Jones, the good in that tradeoff came in the assists category; she was up nearly two more assists per game in 2009.
And what should be noted was the fact that Jones faced a double team nearly every game.
“It was just a scouting report that was passed on: You’re not going to guard her with one,” Thompson said. “So, basically just figure out your best two people that can guard her and let them double team her.”
Jones didn’t seem to mind the transformation from her team’s leading scorer to being more of a distributor.
“This year my team was more equipped,” Jones said. “We had excellent shooters who made their shots and all I had to do was set them up.
“It’s not like the weight is all on your shoulders. You have help and people willing to step up and make big shots. All you had to do was set them up perfectly, and that was the easy part.”