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Seton-La Salle assistant preps for WNBA tryout

photo courtesy of Robert DelGreco
Seton-La Salle assistant coach Whitney Jones, center, shares postseason accolades with senior netters, from left, Naje Gibson and Yacine Diop. Jones was a 2013 WNBA draft choice of the San Antonio Stars.

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By Justin Criado
Wednesday, April 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

When Whitney Jones moved to Pittsburgh after her husband Landry was drafted by the Steelers, she was in search of a place to coach while continuing to rehab after knee surgery.

“I was going through my emails in the fall and one of the messages was from Coach Jones. She explained to me who she was and how her husband had been drafted by the Steelers, and how she would like to be a part of the coaching staff,” John Ashaolu, Seton-La Salle's athletic director, said.

“I forwarded the email to Coach (Spencer) Stefko, they eventually met, and she was on the (Seton-La Salle) staff a week later.”

Jones wasn't privy to Seton-La Salle's rich basketball history coming from Oklahoma, but brought with her impressive credentials in her own right.

As a guard in the University of Oklahoma women's basketball program, Jones started 103 games and recorded 1,211 points, 555 rebounds and 296 assists during a storied career.

After her senior season, in which she suffered an ACL injury, Jones was selected 32nd overall in the 2013 WNBA Draft by the San Antonio Stars.

Since Jones didn't pass the physical, San Antonio held her rights for a year, giving her the opportunity to try out this season.

“Coach (Dan) Hughes was generous in the fact he took a chance on me. He knew I couldn't play last year,” Jones said. “He pretty much told me when he drafted me that it was my choice, and if I was done I was done. I didn't know I was going to play until like August after my most recent surgery. I decided if I could find a gym I can train in, I could try.”

Entering his first year with the Lady Rebels, Stefko needed to put together a coaching staff. What he saw in Jones on the bench went beyond her stat line as a player.

“It's really been a joint effort,” Stefko said during the Lady Rebels' banner 2013-14 season. “The girls listen to her because she's been there.”

Jones admits she had to adjust her approach in what was her first coaching gig, but said the Seton girls made the transition easier than she expected.

“I was so blown away by the talent on that team,” Jones said. “I was so honored to help coach and befriend all those girls. It really helped me transition back to high school.”

As Seton-La Salle collected wins en route to WPIAL and PIAA Class AA championships, Jones continued to put in the extra work in preparation for her WNBA workout — sometimes with a little help from Landry, a former Oklahoma football star who now is a reserve quarterback for the Steelers.

“Eight months in a gym by yourself can get pretty monotonous, especially at 5 a.m.,” Jones said. “He would come up in the offseason and we would play one-on-one for an hour and a half.

“It was really fun. We usually can't compete without somebody getting hurt, but he was really helpful.”

Jones said her goodbyes last week at Seton-La Salle's end-of-the-year banquet and returned to Tulsa to prepare for the tryouts, which are April 27.

“I think Coach Jones made a huge impact on the girls because she has not only played at a high level (and will continue to do so), but she accomplished everything that these girls would ever want to accomplish,” Ashaolu said. “Not only did she play at the University of Oklahoma, she also completed her degree. She provided the team with a role model that they can emulate on and off the court.”

Whatever happens in San Antonio, Jones appreciated the run she experienced with the Lady Rebels.

“I think my experience was a very rare first experience,” she said. “It's been a fun journey.

“I think there may be a future (in coaching), but it was really good for me to stay in the game that way.”

Justin Criado is a freelance writer.

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