The Texas A&M Aggies (20-1; 11-1 SEC) may have lost superstar guard Chennedy Carter to the WNBA Draft a year early, but they haven’t missed a beat, playing arguably their best ball under longtime head coach Gary Blair since winning the NCAA Championship in 2011.
The Aggies, who are currently ranked No. 3 in the country in the weekly Associated Press poll, have taken a considerably more egalitarian approach than in recent seasons, and it’s worked wonders. The team’s group of seniors, which includes forward N’dea Jones, center Ciera Johnson and guards Kayla Wells and Aaliyah Wilson, has set the bar for an A&M roster that doesn’t depend on any one player to get the job done — and it also figures to send several players to the 2021 WNBA Draft.
Jones, a 6-foot-2 product of Lawrenceville, GA, could be the first of those players drafted. Once cast as the Aggies’ rebounding specialist, Jones has expanded her game for her senior season, becoming a multi-situational offensive threat while maintaining her reputation as one of the country’s top rebounders.
Honors and statistics
Her career at A&M, however, started humbly. Originally named the No. 79 recruit in the class of 2017 by ESPN HoopGurlz, Jones played just 6.1 minutes per game her freshman season, but came out of nowhere as a sophomore to become a full-time starter and average 11.3 rebounds per game.
Jones has improved in every season since then. She’s shooting a career-best 54.7 percent from 2-point range and is averaging a career-high 12 points per game to go along with her stellar rebounding. Don’t be surprised if her preseason First Team All-SEC honor carries over to the final regular-season tally.
How she helps the Aggies
There’s one thing the Aggies can expect from Jones on a daily basis: effort.
“I’m going to try to play my absolute best, either making them have a bad-shooting night or a bad-rebounding night — they’re going to get my best every time I step on the court,” Jones commented after Texas A&M’s 60-48 victory over rival Georgia — a game in which Jones recorded one of her 12 double-doubles on the season.
Of course, consistent effort is something one should expect from the senior leader, but Jones doesn’t just set the tone for the Aggies — she gets results. She’s averaging double-digit rebounds (10.2) for the third consecutive season, and her 3.1 offensive rebounds per game rank fifth in an SEC conference dominated by large, physical frontcourt players.
While Jones doesn’t quite fit that mold — at least, not like South Carolina’s Aliyah Boston or Tennessee’s Tamari Key — her activity level and feel for the game gives her more than a puncher’s chance against the SEC’s biggest and best. Jones isn’t only an aggressive rebounder; she’s a cerebral one, too, knowing how to position herself for loose balls and get to rebounds that her opponents can’t.
That skill translates to other areas of the court. Jones is a more versatile offensive player than her basic stat line might suggest: Per Synergy Sports, 23 percent of Jones’ offensive possessions have come on post-ups, with 18.9 percent coming in transition, 18.1 percent on basket cuts and 16.2 percent on put backs. As an added bonus, she’s shooting 63.2 percent from the field on those basket cuts.
Those frequencies speak volumes. A transition frequency of 18.9 percent is fairly high for a frontcourt player, yes, but Jones making nearly as many plays off basket cuts points to her ability to play in a slower, more methodical offense just as well as she does an uptempo one. Such balance may be a product of Blair’s timeless coaching philosophy, but it will also prepare Jones well for professional basketball.
Watch her play
Texas A&M has a pair of key matchups remaining in its SEC regular-season schedule: a Feb. 25 game against Jasmine Walker and the Alabama Crimson Tide and a Feb. 28 game against Boston and the No. 5 South Carolina Gamecocks. The latter game will be of particular significance for the Aggies; both they and the Gamecocks have just one loss in SEC play, so barring an unexpected result for either team before next Sunday, the ESPN2-televised showdown will determine the conference’s regular-season winner.
All statistics and team records for the 2020-21 season are current through Feb. 22, 2021.