What's better than one dynamic talent?
At the WNBA Draft earlier this month, the Atlanta Dream selected Stanford standout Haley Jones with the sixth overall pick. Jones joins an Atlanta squad that is led by second-year head coach Tanisha Wright and guard Rhyne Howard, the 2022 WNBA Rookie of the Year who was drafted first overall. Howard and Jones have experience playing with one another on the USA Basketball circuit since they were teenagers.
As one of the top prospects in this year's draft class, Jones is clearly a great player, but what gets lost among the stats and X’s and O’s is how wickedly smart she is between the lines.
"Haley is really a special player," Stanford associate head coach Kate Paye told Bally Sports. "Very unique talent. She has phenomenal vision. She is just a supremely gifted passer. She sees things and makes passes that you just can't teach. She's a highly cerebral player, very intelligent."
Jones comes from a basketball family. Both of her parents played basketball at the collegiate level and have coaching experience. Jones said she strives for excellence every time she steps on the court.
At Stanford, the Santa Cruz, California native became an NCAA champion (2021), three-time Pac-12 champion (2021-23), two-time Pac-12 Tournament champion (2021-22), Pac-12 Player of the Year (2022) and an All-American. She won't stop pursuing greatness in the WNBA. The 6-foot-1 point guard/forward can make plays on offense and can use her size to protect the rim on defense.
"Where Haley is at her best is grabbing a defensive rebound and bringing the ball down the floor," Paye said. "She is great in transition. I think she's really at her best when she's surrounded by great shooters."
While Howard is known to get hot from deep, the Dream are made up of outstanding pull-up jump shooters and straight-line drivers like Naz Hillmon and Cheyenne Parker. Both shot 48% or more from the field last season.
Jones expects a learning curve but will ultimately rely on what has gotten her to this point.
"It's going to be what I've been doing," Jones told Bally Sports. "It's gonna be finding my spots on the floor, working with my new teammates while being a playmaker and still finding my spots when it's my turn to get a bucket. I think it's really just continuing to have that mindset that I've had the past years at Stanford."
Paye knows what it takes to make the jump from college to the pros, having played in the American Basketball League (1996-98) and in the WNBA with the Minnesota Lynx (2000-01) and Seattle Storm (2002). She has been transparent with the Cardinal guards she has coached about the challenges at the next level. However, she believes Jones and the current generation of players have the advantage of benefitting from the WNBA's progress and the growth in the women's game.
"For their entire lives, there's been a professional league in the United States for them to aspire to. I think that that's really the biggest difference," said Paye, who coached big guards with skills similar to Jones, namely WNBA first-round picks Candice Wiggins and Jeanette Pohlen. "We've come a long way and have a lot of work to do, but I think, um, you know, players grow up with this dream. I think you're seeing the development and the transition process really become more sophisticated. Just the level of commitment of what it really takes to be a pro.
"I just ran into Andrew Luck in the cafeteria here at Stanford. He's getting his master's in education, and he was talking about the incredible sacrifice that it takes to be a high-level pro athlete. You wake up and every single minute of the day you’re all about trying to put yourself in a position for peak performance, the way you sleep, the way you eat, how you take care of your body and how you spend your time. It's an incredible sacrifice."
The Dream begins training camp on Sunday. Jones said the excitement of getting through her first workout trumps any nervousness. It also helps that she'll have immense support in Atlanta, similar to what she had at Stanford. Although her immediate family and grandparents live in Santa Cruz, the rest of her family is in Riceboro, Georgia, or Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
"It's literally like a homecoming," Jones said. "When I hugged my mom (on draft night), she was like, 'We're going home,' and I was like, 'Amazing.' But I'm also like, 'Oh, my God, there's like thousands of people there. … All my little cousins already said that they're coming to stay with me forever."
Jones might be moving from Northern California for the first time, but her daily pursuit for excellence won't change in Atlanta. With the Dream, she will continue striving to be the best player she can be.