Alexis Jones' journey to Duke basketball stardom begins with her father
Alexis Jones grew up in Midland, Texas for the first 13 years of her life. Although Texas is generally thought of as a football-first state, Jones’ father, David, saw early on that his daughter was exceptional at the sport he loved—basketball.
David was Alexis’ coach for the majority of her youth, and although Alexis loved the sport and the fact that she was succeeding, she still faced the common problem of any player who has ever been the coach’s kid.
“Growing up I probably didn’t like it as much when my dad coached me, which is pretty normal for a kid when their dad is coaching them,” Jones said.
But this problem is one Alexis would soon miss.
On Easter weekend in 2007, David was driving Alexis and several teammates to basketball practice when the Jones’ car hit a spot of black ice. With all the passengers, including Alexis, asleep, the car flipped three times and came to a stop on the side of the road.
All passengers walked away from the crash uninjured. But David, the driver and father of two of the passengers—Alexis and her little brother Andrew—did not. Following the wreck, doctors gave the family news that Jones’ injuries had resulted in him being paralyzed from the chest down, confining him to a wheelchair for the remainder of his life.
The injury complicated things for the family, which was in the middle of moving from Midland to Irving, Texas. David was supposed to move on to better coaching opportunities and jobs, neither of which he would be able to do while recovering from his injury. The move was also being made to provide Alexis, Andrew and David with exposure to a better high school system and college scouts, which David was key in facilitating.
“The move really was for Alexis and for the family. It was for both Alexis and me too because I knew I could finally do better job-wise and I knew Alexis could do better basketball-wise,” David said.
Because of the injury, David was no longer able to coach Alexis from the sideline as he had for so many years. The comfort level Alexis had established with her father’s instruction had to be completely reworked with a new coach.
Entering high school, Alexis had never been coached by anybody other than her father. Whereas she once did not fully appreciate his presence on the sidelines, she quickly understood how much she valued him as both a coach and father.
“When it first happened it was really tough to finally realize that I wasn’t going to have my dad to coach me any more,” Alexis said. “He’s the only person who has really been coaching me. Everything I did with basketball has been through him, with AAU and everything.”
Alexis had the talent, and everyone around her knew it. The issues were the move to a new city and the adjustment to a new high school, transitions that were uncomfortable but necessary for her in order to compete at the Division I level.
The process did not get easier for Alexis as she continued to play for MacArthur High School. Odyssey Sims, the current point guard for No. 1 Baylor, was a junior at MacArthur when Alexis was a freshman and was ranked by many as the top point guard in her recruiting class. In the 2010 state playoffs, Sims went down with a knee injury, forcing Jones to step up and be the focal point of the team, a role she was not quite used to playing.
This would not be the last time Alexis saw a star teammate go down and be forced to step up. In Duke’s Feb. 17 contest against Wake Forest, junior point guard Chelsea Gray’s season ended when she dislocated her kneecap. The injury forced Alexis to step into the high-pressure role of being the team’s main ball-handler.
“I’ve been through this with Odyssey, because she tore her ACL in the last game [of the 2010 season],” Jones said. “So it’s more like from my experience. I have, obviously, a lot of experience with certain things.”
MacArthur dropped the contest, but not before Jones put up 26 points, which would only be a sign of things to come. She averaged 22.3 points and 7.2 assists as a junior and 22.8 points and 7.0 assists in her senior season.
This process of learning to step up when someone she leans on can no longer be there has been a challenging one, but one that has benefited Jones, both on and off the court.
“One thing about her is that she’s that kind of person that she doesn’t let adversity get to her. She tries to make sure that she’s going to do the best for her team as possible,” David said. “If she has to step up, she’s going to make sure to fill that void. That’s just the way she’s been since she was 12 years old.”
The spotlight is not something new for Alexis, and she has proven to her teammates and opponents that she has the skill set to pick up what Gray’s injury left void. During the last four regular season games, Jones averaged 14.0 points, 5.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds. This type of production as a freshman is a testament to Jones’ ability to adapt to change.
“I think she put a lot of pressure on herself earlier in the year because she wanted to do so well. I think she wasn’t relaxed enough to play the game like she is right now,” David said. “I think by watching Chelsea, listening to Chelsea, now she’s able to be a little more free with her game and coaches trust her, and she’s not playing uptight.”
Her contributions have not gone unnoticed. Jones was named ACC Rookie of the Week two weeks in a row at the end of the regular season, as well as being named to the All-ACC Freshman Team. Moving forward, Jones will have to continue this run of success if she and the Blue Devils wish to attain their goal of a national championship.
But before the Big Dance, the Jones family got to share a special moment, as David flew up to Greensboro to watch Alexis play in the ACC tournament. Alexis won the tournament’s MVP award as the Blue Devils brought home the conference crown.
“It means a lot to me because it’s my freshman year, so to have my parents up in the stands watching me play, it means the world,” Alexis said. “They support me a lot in basketball and it tells me that they’re never going to stop supporting me.”