Until about a month ago, Tayanna Jones was expecting this to be a behind-the-scenes season of growth as a basketball player.
When the NCAA granted a waiver to all transfers in mid-December, however, Jones was suddenly eligible to play, and she is becoming a key piece off the bench for the Colorado women’s basketball team (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12), which visits Arizona State on Friday.
A 6-foot-3 junior guard who transferred from Georgetown last summer, Jones has played at least 15 minutes in each of the last three games, while contributing 7.0 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
“Tay is getting better every single day,” CU head coach JR Payne said. “I’m just really proud of her for how she’s poured into herself and poured into the program to get to the right place.”
After two seasons at Georgetown, where she averaged 4.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in 38 games, Jones believes she is in the right place at CU.
Several programs contacted her after she entered the NCAA transfer portal last spring, but she instantly connected with CU coaches. In fact, she said of Payne, “I could hear a smile through the phone.”
“I ended up feeling like this is a good atmosphere,” Jones said. “It was good for me. I thought it was healthy. It was something that, most importantly, I can grow and become better as a basketball player.”
Typically, undergraduate transfers have to sit out a season, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA granted waivers to all players last month. CU was already six games into the season by then.
“I was not expecting to play at first,” she said. “Understanding that, ‘Okay, it’s time for me to get better, perfect my craft, and then put on more weight and get stronger.’”
Then came the sudden change from the NCAA. Jones played just 83 seconds in her debut, Dec. 18 against Arizona, and had a total of four points and four rebounds in her first three games combined.
Now, she’s settling in.
“When I first started playing I was like, whatever my role was, whatever the team needed me to do, whatever the coaches needed to do, so I was kind of just trying to step up and do exactly what I was asked,” she said. “(The USC game, on Jan. 3), I got a lot more minutes and I got a good feel of the game. I let my shoulders down a little bit, kind of relaxed and just played the game I’ve been playing for so long.”
In addition to adding some scoring punch, Jones is striving to put her athleticism and length to good use on defense – something she didn’t do growing up.
“I have always been a scorer,” she said. “One of my best games (in high school), I had 45 points one game but I didn’t play any freakin’ defense. I’ve been trying to adjust. That’s an area of my game I want to get better at. I never needed it, but as you get to the next level, especially me wanting to play professionally, you definitely have to take defense serious and understand the game.”
Jones is becoming a bigger part of the rotation, and Payne believes the future is bright.
“She said, ‘Coach J, I don’t think you understand: I just want to be great,’” Payne said. “She’s comfortable and confident to put that out there and I love that about her.
“She’s very open to coaching. … I really appreciate that about her, that she’s really striving to challenge her weaknesses and she’s doing that.”