MARTIN, Tenn.– Seeing her debut season continue to flourish, the Elam Center and its 1600 fans took a collective gasp on Jan. 27 when Ashia Jones, a freshman on the University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team, went down with an apparent knee injury at the 7:36 mark of the first half against Eastern Illinois.
“It was definitely scary when I went down with the injury,” said Jones. “It eventually came to the point where I had to decide between playing hard and sitting down. I knew I didn’t want to sit down.”
Jones would not only return just five minutes later, but would tie her previous career high with 27 points in 28 minutes of work.
While most of the team’s attention deservedly goes to Jones’ senior teammates Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome, the league’s all-time leading scorers, she has quickly proven that she can be a dominant player in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Hailing from Covington, Tenn., Jones lost many of her scholarship offers after moving from Edwardsville, Ill. to Covington prior to her senior season. What first looked to be a setback saw the script quickly flip when UT Martin came calling. As a high school senior, Jones played for current UT Martin men’s basketball assistant Dion Real at Covington before he made the call suggesting she become a Skyhawk.
“Ashia came in and played so hard,” said Real. “After the first week she was in Covington, I called the coaches at UT Martin and told them they have got a steal in her. She just improved so much during the year and was extremely dedicated and you have seen that continue to where she is today.”
“Coach McMillan talked to coach Real and invited me to visit following the state tournament,” said Jones. “Even though I had other visits planned, I quickly realized that UT Martin was the place that I wanted to be. On my visit I fell in love with the family vibe and instantly felt like this was where I needed to be. The girls have opened me into their family from day one and it has been a great fit.”
With the family aspect aside, it takes time acclimating to not only Division I basketball, but collegiate life as whole. Measuring at just 6’ 1” and with a slender frame, Jones struggled early in the season against bigger opponents while trying to fit her style of play to the level of competition.
“Early in the season I had to get used to how fast the college game was, along with the physicality and strength which I had to go up against throughout the country,” said Jones.
In the first 13 games of the season, the Skyhawks sat at just 7-6 on the season. Jones had contributed, seeing action in all 13 games while moving into the starting lineup for her sixth consecutive game. She posted respectable numbers for a player striving to find her rhythm while averaging 6.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 20.6 minutes per game but what happened next was something the program hadn’t seen by a freshman since 2011.
“Despite being smaller than many of the people I go up against, I use the fact that I’m lean and athletic to grab an advantage,” said Jones. “I cannot size up against many of the bigger posts, so I have to use my speed and quickness to my advantage. Playing many of the bigger schools prepared me for closing out OVC play strong.”
Many New Year’s resolutions go by the wayside, but when the calendar flipped to 2014, Jones began a complete transformation. With the start of conference play in full swing, she began to leave her mark and prove to be one of the top players in the conference.
Jones used a trip to Murray State on Jan. 4 as a teaser of what was to come. Rivalry matchup aside, Jones notched her first career double-double with 20 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 32 minutes of play.
Over the course of the final 18 games of the season, Jones finished third on the team in total points while averaging 18.1 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in conference play. Her 18.1 points per game ranked fifth in the OVC along with leading the league with a 58.1 field goal percentage.
“Playing along a great group of seniors has really helped me take the next step,” said Jones. “I was always used to being double- and triple-teamed in high school. Being able to play along two of the best guards allows me to get the matchups that I need. They keep us motivated and are always encouraging me. Being able to have that accountability and encouragement has provided a good balance.”
Her play was not only recognized internally, but by the league’s coaches and sports information directors as she was named to the All-OVC second team, All-OVC Newcomer team and tabbed OVC Freshman of the Year. During the season she was named the league’s freshman of the week a record six times, while becoming the first freshman to take home player of the week honors since Newsome did in 2011.
Overall, Jones scored 20 points or more on six occasions to go along with five double-doubles. Going into the NCAA Tournament, she has scored in double figures 19 times on the year, including 16 straight games.
With the deadly combo of two of the most explosive scorers in history, the Skyhawks now have a formidable low post option which will be a threat for any team come tournament time.
“I have enjoyed this season,” said Jones. “Being able to win my first championship after coming so close on two separate occasions in high school, it was good to finally get over the hump. We know we have a lot of responsibility and we are ready to make a run at the tournament.”