MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BVM) — In a perfect world, high school athletes would all be five-star recruits and have the opportunity to play for their favorite schools and have illustrious college careers. However, it rarely happens that way as players all have their unique paths to reach the Division I ranks.
For one of the newest additions to the Memphis women’s basketball team, guard Jatyjia “Tye” Jones, she has had a very different path than the other members of her recruiting class. While the other recruits, Callie Wright, En’Dya Buford and Coriah Beck are all freshman, Jones is a transfer student.
Following her graduation from Ingomar High School in 2018, rather than going straight to a Division I program, Jones made the decision to play at well-known junior college Jones Community College in Ellisville, Miss.
Why Jones Community College? Well, Jones said that following extenuating circumstances prior to her senior year, it complicated matters for her recruitment.
“I moved high schools my senior year,” Jones said. “I went from Ponotoc High School to Ingomar High School, which is like 4A to 2A. I actually had Division I looks at Ponotoc because I led the team. So, with me moving from there to Ingomar, not a lot of people followed me there. I still had the same game, if not a better game because I played with people with more chemistry compared to at Pontotoc. It was hard, so when it came down to it my offers were really junior colleges.”
While many junior colleges have impressive resumes, Bobcats’ head coach, Missy Bilderback has made JCC into a premiere destination for women’s basketball players. In her five years in charge, she has led her team to four straight division titles and four straight Region 23 Championships. Her incredible tenure has earned her four straight NJCAA Region 23 Coach of the Year honors.
Jones recognized that winning prowess, which is why she made the decision to commit to the program in the first place. It also helped that she could see that Bilderback truly believed in her growth.
“I chose Jones because they had a winning culture,” Jones said. “It seemed like Bilderback knew what she was doing, so when it came down to it she was ready to develop me and I was ready to develop myself.
It became clear early on that Jones made the right college choice. In her freshman year, she appeared in every game and averaged 4.9 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. As a sophomore, her numbers improved significantly. She averaged 9.9 points, 2.0 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. Her rebound and assist numbers were both third on the team.
Most importantly, she helped her team win back–to–back NJCAA championships.
However, even with the success of the program, the pandemic made it difficult for herself and her teammates to get recruited. She was able to still make an informed commitment, but it was not a guarantee for her teammates.
“I committed around February,” Jones said. “But the recruiting process was very hard. It was hard trying to keep our team healthy and to continue to play the games. With recruitment, it was difficult trying to get coaches to come down and watch you play.”
For Jones, Memphis was not an entirely new possibility. She had looked into the program while in high school and though there was some mutual interest, it did not end up working out at the time.
“I actually had a look from Memphis in high school,” Jones said. “A recruiter came in and looked at me and the game she came and looked, I played horrible and we lost. So, I still had a lot of development to do. I still would have come here, but I feel like going to Jones made me realize I got a lot to improve on before I go to that next level.”
Now as an official Tiger, Jones hopes that she can help the team to establish a new culture, especially after having a lot of success with Jones Community College.
“My main goal is to win it all,” Jones said. “I’ve been on winning teams, especially at Jones. In both my years I won rings. Obviously, that’s different coming from junior college coming to a higher level, but my goal is to obviously win it all, but I feel like that’s everyone’s goal.”
A championship would be a welcome change from the recent string of Tigers’ seasons. Since the Tigers joined the American Athletic Conference in 2013, they have had only one season where they participated in a postseason tournament. They have not won a conference title since 1998.
It will take a lot more than just one player to make Memphis a national contender, but Jones is confident that she can do the little that can help the team improve.
“I bring great defensive qualities to the team,” Jones said. “I think that’s something that the team needs to improve on compared to last year. So, I’m bringing a good amount of defense. Offensively, I feel like I can improve there, but I also bring something to the table in the fact that I’m an everything guard, except for point guard obviously. I feel like I can bring something on both sides.”
Head coach Melissa McFerrin has been impressed by what Jones has done so far in the offseason and thinks she can carve out a key role for herself as the season goes on.
“She takes pride in her defense,” McFerrin said. “Her ability to shoot threes has really come around in the last three to four months because she has worked tremendously hard at it.”
With less than two weeks separating the Tigers from their season opener against Southern Illinois, Jones is inching closer to her chance to prove that she belongs on the Division I level.