‘Sky’s the limit’: Hoops prodigy Haley Jones talks title, pandemic, encores & Santa Cruz’s best Mexican food
Jones also has game when it comes to cooking with her mom, Bay Area exploration and song lyrics that she’s not afraid to sing aloud. ‘I love how music brings people together.’
Haley Jones has the world in the palm of her hand.
After not just leading the Stanford women’s basketball team to its first national championship in 29 years, but putting the Cardinal on her back in crunchtime, the 6-foot-1 do-everything sophomore guard from Santa Cruz, whose game is often compared to Magic Johnson and Draymond Green, is rightfully beaming.
She was the most outstanding player in the NCAA Final Four, she just accepted an invitation to USA Basketball’s AmeriCup team trials and got news that her hometown has declared April 4 — the day of the Stanford title — “Haley Jones Day.”
It all makes sense for someone who was the No. 1 recruit in the nation coming out of high school at Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, whose mom and dad both played collegiate basketball, as does her older brother. Her cousin, DeLisha Milton-Jones, is a two-time Olympic and FIBA World Cup gold medalist who is now the head coach at Old Dominion.
Lookout caught up with Haley during a busy post victory media tour blitz, that included a “Good Morning America” appearance, to talk about battling back from a severe knee injury, living out of a suitcase most of this pandemic-plagued season and the things she loves most about her hometown.
What made this team different?
I think this year was different for every team, especially with the COVID protocols. Being on the road away from our families and dorms and always having a teammate or staff member everywhere you turn even on days you just want to be by yourself. It allowed us to get to know each other very well and deal with roadblocks together, so I think we showed a lot of toughness and team chemistry which ultimately helped us come out with a championship.
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COVID really threw everyone for a loop. Did you find it harder or easier to play such momentous games in such surreal conditions?
For me personally, when I’m on the court I generally don’t hear the crowd at all. I hear (coach) Tara (VanDerveer) clearly whenever she’s yelling at me for good or bad things, I hear my teammates. I’m generally locked into the game, but I think having the crowd at the Final Four definitely made a difference.
The atmosphere we had before that was just this ambient crowd noise coming from the speaker so there was no change of flow. A turnover and a game changing 3-pointer felt the same. The momentum shifts with the crowd were definitely noticeable.
After suffering a knee injury last season and being forced off campus due to lockdowns, did you feel as though you had something to prove at the beginning of this season? Did you ever doubt yourself?
I had never suffered an injury that severe and longterm, so it was very difficult. In the beginning it wasn’t good, but once I began rehab it was better because I still had my team on campus and I got to go to the Pac-12 Tournament. It was more difficult when everything got shut down because I couldn’t even be on campus for physical therapy.
There was lots of back-and-forth communication between my trainers, and once I got back into running I had to go to the Santa Cruz High football field with my laptop so they could watch me. By the time I hit half field, I’m out of the frame, so they say “I mean the first 20 yards were great!” So it was difficult being away from everyone.
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I’m not really one to look at rankings but it’s hard not to feel it. Being the No. 1 recruit is great but that’s not what I get my motivation from. I don’t look at it from an individual standpoint. I wanted to come back and be more of a leader; more vocal, a more aggressive mindset. I think that’s also just from not being a freshman anymore.
The Magic and Draymond comparisons are eye-catching. Is there someone you consider your biggest inspiration or that you strive to embody on the court?
I’m inspired by a long list of people. Basketball-wise, I look at players who embody the type of player that I am. I hear that I’m smooth and versatile, so I look at someone like Kevin Durant. I think this year I’ve been more vocal and have more energy like Draymond Green. You can also bring in the women’s players I like. Tamika Catchings plays with so much passion and tenacity and Brenda Stewart does it all. I also try to grab pieces from my teammates.
Outside of basketball, a lot of my motivation comes from my family, they’re my support system. My brother is my biggest fan. They’re so strong and have always supported me through the ups and downs. I try to embody different qualities that they have because, of course, we are a basketball family.
Traveling must have been weird this season. What was good and what was bad about living on the road?
I hate living out of a suitcase. No matter what hotel we were at or how long we were there, everything is always folded and put away. That was my least favorite thing. I loved spending time with the girls. One of the reasons I chose Stanford was because of the girls on the team and the people surrounding me.
Even though I knew that traveling would be tough, I knew that I was surrounded by the right people. We had movie nights, karaoke nights, played card games and board games, so it was fun getting to know everyone on a different level that you usually would.
What are your favorite Santa Cruz-specific pastimes?
Oh man, I have so many. I have a lot of hobbies outside basketball because I’d get burned out if that’s all I did. My mom is Top Chef, the best ever; so I love cooking with her and my grandma. We live kind of close to UCSC, so I can easily drive up the coast.
When I was in high school, I loved getting up early and driving and finding new places around Half Moon Bay or Pacifica or wherever it may be. I wouldn’t say I have any “hidden spots,” I really just love the ocean and sitting on the beach. When we got to come to Santa Cruz as a team this year I loved showing everyone around town.
Everyone’s got a strong opinion on this one: Favorite taqueria?
That’s very tough. It really depends on what I’m in the mood for. If I want a quesadilla, I’m going to La Hacienda. Tacos or enchiladas, probably El Palomar. I love a good super burrito, if I want one of those I’m going to Los Pericos. For nachos, I’m probably going to Vallarta or El Palomar again. Those are the four spots that my family and I always go between. That’s a local opinion right there.
I’m gonna sing my heart out, and it may sound horrible and tone deaf but I’m gonna go for it.
— Haley Jones
When you’re on campus and surrounded by your peers, what are you passionate about? What do you do around Stanford when you’re off the court?
I love finding new places and experiencing new things. I’ve gotten closer to Anna Wilson this year and she’s got, like, all the knowledge of anything cool in the Bay Area. Even though I went to high school in San Jose, I never really explored because I was always commuting. I enjoy immersing myself in different groups of people, trying different foods, and taking day trips to San Francisco. I’m also passionate about music.
I’m a horrible singer, but my mediocre superpower is picking up lyrics super fast. So I’m gonna sing my heart out, and it may sound horrible and tone deaf but I’m gonna go for it. I love how music brings people together, so I like finding new music and making playlists for my friends. I have a passion for people and the different things that bring them together.
You’ve set a very high bar for yourself. What’s your biggest goal moving forward?
I think the sky’s the limit. I want two more regular season Pac-12’s, two more Pac-12 Tournament championships, two more national championships. I’m trying out for the USA AmeriCup team and I want to make that. Whatever opportunity or team accolade comes, I want to do whatever I can to help my team achieve it. I don’t really know if I have specific goals in mind, but whatever comes my way, I’m going to do it to the best of my abilities.