Texas A&M’s N’dea Jones enjoys sporting a Gucci handbag. If she continues her current scoring and rebounding binge, she’ll be adding to her wardrobe.
The junior forward has scored at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in seven straight games. The Southeastern Conference’s only player to do that in every league game this season is averaging 16.3 points and 13 rebounds over the last month.
“I feel like my energy and effort have always been there,” Jones said. “I just think I’m being more aggressive. I always play hard when I get my rebounds, but I think I’ve been a more aggressive threat on offense.”
Jones will try to notch her eighth straight double-double at 3 p.m. Sunday at Reed Arena when 15th-ranked Texas A&M (16-3, 4-2) hosts the Missouri Tigers (5-14, 1-2).
Missouri, which ranks last in the SEC in scoring defense and next to last in rebounding margin, will have a tough time slowing down the 6-foot-2 Jones, who credits family and friends for giving her added motivation.
It was about a year ago her father made an enticing offer.
“At the time, I was struggling and needed some type of motivation,” Jones said. “My dad just made a deal with me if I got 20 and 10 either way, then I’d get a bag.”
She improved her play, especially in rebounding with 10 or more boards in nine of A&M’s last 10 games against SEC teams.
But she got only a little bit better on the offensive end. She averaged 6.0 points in the first 15 SEC games, scoring in double digits in only one. She scored 13 points in A&M’s 66-53 victory over Arkansas to end the regular season then scored in double digits in both SEC tournament games for three straight double-doubles. Her best effort was a solid 14 points and 14 rebounds — well short of earning a designer handbag from her father.
Jones says she really isn’t into such high-priced fashion accessories but asked for a second chance all the same.
“Coming into this year, I asked him if that deal was still there, and he basically said yes, so I needed to step it up,” Jones said.
She had visions of owning something from Gucci or Chanel by Christmas, but she had only two double-doubles though A&M’s first 12 games with the best effort being 12 points and 11 rebounds in a 72-43 victory over Houston.
When she went home to Lawrenceville, Georgia, for Christmas, her family and friends gave her some tough love about stepping up, especially on offense.
‘They were telling me, ‘Hey, we know you can shoot. We see you shoot all the time in the gym. Why don’t you shoot in the game?’” Jones said. “Also, when I go home, I play with guys a lot. So I don’t play with girls. I play pickup with my guy friends. They’re a lot older. I’ve been playing with them since I was little, so I think that also helped my confidence a little bit and just boosted it up.”
Jones had 16 points and 13 rebounds against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the Aggies’ first game after the Christmas break. She followed that with a career-high 22 points and 14 rebounds in an 84-77 victory at Arkansas to open SEC play. Jones began the game by calmly hitting a 3-pointer in the first minute. She had been 0 for 7 in her career from long range, but said she hits them in practice, so why not shoot them in the game? That jump-started her to a 9-of-12 effort from the field for her best shooting game of the season, helping earn the coveted Gucci bag.
She didn’t stop there. Jones is shooting a blistering 53.8% from the field (42 of 78) in the last month.
“I’ve really tried to help my team out more,” Jones said. “Especially, talking to [head coach Gary Blair] and my coaches, they said I need to step up.”
Jones is averaging 10.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game for the season. She ranks second in the SEC in rebounds behind Auburn’s Unique Thompson (11.9). In just SEC games, she’s averaging 16.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. Her father, once again, provided added motivation.
“I have another deal with him before SEC play started,” she said. “If I were to make first-team All-SEC, I get a bag, or if I average 14 and 11 this season, perhaps a bag will come.”
Jones needed a strong second half in a 79-74 victory at Alabama on Thursday to keep her double-double streak going. Jones ended with 21 points and 11 rebounds, overcoming a 2-of-8 shooting start.
“I got on her at halftime. She was playing a little soft,” said Blair, calling her “In’Dee instead of N’dea. “I think I remember her as a freshman I used that name In’Dee and gosh she hated it.”
Blair could have saved his name calling.
“I already knew that I wasn’t doing that well, so he didn’t have to say anything, because I was disappointed, especially after the first quarter,” Jones said. “Looking at the scoreboard, talking to my teammates, we all knew we needed to step up.”
It’s that kind of maturity which has allowed the easy-going Jones to know when to get serious.
“Coach Blair always says people aren’t going to take you seriously because you smile on the court,” Jones said. “I do smile a lot on the court. I try to work on my facial expressions, but it doesn’t work all the time.”
Jones, of course, ends the thought by laughing.
“But you can’t really judge me on my personality,” she said. “I’ve always been told growing up, my dad said people are going to come after you because I look so ... so nice and so sweet on the court. But eventually when you play me, you’re going to realize that’s going to be harder to do.”
Blair said he’s nicknamed other “nice” players Charmin, but In’Dee worked well with Jones.
“Well, she’s pretty doggone physical now,” Blair said. “And she knows how to score and she wants the ball and she’s got the best smile in the SEC. And she wants to deliver. She follows the ball, follows the miss and can get the rebound. But now she’s starting to hit the tough shot.”
It helps Jones that 6-4 junior post Ciera Johnson is constantly double teamed.
“They’re just saying, ‘N’dea, can you beat us by yourself?’” Blair said. “That means you’ve got two good post players that are playing off each other.”
NOTES — A&M junior guard Chennedy Carter, the team’s leading scorer at 21.9 points a game, has missed the last 14 quarters with a Grade 2 ankle sprain. Blair said Thursday he doesn’t know when Carter will return. ... A&M is tied with 12th-ranked Kentucky (15-3, 4-2) and LSU (14-4, 4-2) for fourth place in the SEC standings. Missouri is tied with Vanderbilt (12-7, 2-4) and Florida (11-8, 2-4) for ninth. ... A&M leads the all-time series with Missouri 18-10, including 10-2 at home. ... Missouri has two of the SEC’s top freshmen in 6-foot guard Alijha Blackwell and 6-1 forward Hayley Frank. Blackwell is averaging 12.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, while Frank averages 12 points and 3.8 rebounds. ... Blair, who recently won his 800th game, is a victory short of 400 at A&M. He’s 807-325 overall and 399-162 at A&M. ... Jones was a four-star recruit ranked 79th nationally by ESPN’s HoopGurlz. She averaged 1.4 points, 1.4 rebounds and 6.1 minutes per game as a freshman, playing in 23 games with no starts because the Aggies were strong inside with senior post Khaalia Hillsman, junior power forward Anriel Howard and senior forward Jasmine Lumpkin. ... Jones had 10 double-doubles last season. Before starting her current streak of seven straight she had double-digits in only four of A&M’s first 12 games this season.