Texas A&M's N'dea Jones follows Grandma Clara's advice to a stellar year

Senior forward enjoying a record-setting season

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While growing up, N’dea Jones’ paternal grandmother, Grandma Clara, always told her to be extraordinary no matter what. 

It became her life’s motto.

“She used to say this to me all the time,” Jones said. “She would say: the difference between extraordinary people and ordinary people is the extra; so do the extra, do extra work, do more of it.

“I actually got it tattooed on me as a reminder and I write it out if I need a confidence boost or need to step it up,” Jones continued. “I keep telling myself ‘extra.’ I need to do more.” 

And extra is what she is doing as a member of the Texas A&M Aggies women’s basketball team.

The Aggies sit atop the SEC at 8-0 after Sunday’s 57-53 win over Rice, and broke into the national top ten rankings this month. The team is playing solid basketball behind stellar performances from players including seniors Ciera Johnson, Aaliyah Wilson, Zaay Green, Kayla Wells and Jones, a 21-year-old senior forward who is enjoying her most productive year in college play.

Earlier this month she was named SEC Co-Player of the Week after her performance in the first week of the college basketball season — the first weekly honor Jones has garnered in her career. She is the first A&M player to receive the recognition since Chennedy Carter last season.

In addition, Jones has been named to the watch list of several basketball awards, including the prestigious John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 30 Watch List. The Wooden Watch List is the fourth national watch list the senior has graced. She earned spots on the Katrina McClain Award for the second consecutive year (which recognizes the top power forward in NCAA Division I women’s basketball), Naismith Trophy and Wade Trophy watch lists earlier this preseason. This is the first time the senior has been named to either of the latter watch lists.

All of the attention has been slightly unnerving for the Georgia native, though her dreams, fulfilled, will bring more of it: playing in the WNBA, becoming a musician and owning her own recording studio.

Jones opened the season with a career performance, pouring in a career-high 25 points and 11 rebounds versus Lamar. Jones added her second double-double of the week at No. 19 DePaul, locking in 17 points and going 8-for-10 from the field with 10 boards to help lead the Aggies over the Blue Demons, 93-91.

“I was like ‘oh, thank you,’” Jones said when asked about her response to the early recognition her final year of college. “Also being at a program like A&M, our coaches teach us to take a moment to bring it all in then forget about it, we have a next game. So I was like: ok, this is nice. Now I have a new week and I have to do it all again, so we ‘ll see how this week goes.”

The awards are nice and she is appreciative, Jones said, but she tries hard not to dwell on them “because anything can happen. I try to treat each game like it’s my last. I just try to do my job. At the end of the day I am on a team and I don’t want people to see the team and just see me.”

The team-first mentality has helped the Aggies to their best start since the 2014-15 season, and Jones’ play is a big part.

Last season, the senior averaged a double-double with 11.0 points and a league-best 11.7 rebounds per game. She was fourth in the country and led the SEC in total rebounds (351). She has amassed 28 double-doubles in her career, and is only two away from becoming A&M’s all-time leader.

But this year? She is averaging 21.0 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Her emergence may surprise some, but not head coach Gary Blair.

“She was coming into her own last year,” Blair said. “When you look at the numbers and the double-doubles, N’dea has that innate ability when the ball is shot. She goes and gets it — offensively or defensively — and I just love coaching her.”

To what does she owe her breakout performance this season? 

“Well obviously it’s my senior year, I think that has something to do with it,” she said. “I want to leave my mark at A&M. I don’t want my last year to be a disappointment, to me and my coaches, especially with all that is going on. There’s been a lot of mental preparation and physical preparation and I just want to try to do the best I can and I think that’s just showing a lot more this year.”

Jones, who graduated with a music degree from A&M last August and is currently in law school pursuing her jurisprudence degree, told The Next about preparing for the season in the midst of a pandemic, how she stays motivated, what she wishes people knew about college athletes and more:

How did you prepare for this season? Well, there were doubts we would have a season. I like how the coaches did what they did. We treated everything like nothing would change so we wouldn’t go into things like ‘oh, now we can actually play.’ Our coaches wanted to make sure that we were still working and not slacking off because of uncertainty so they tried really hard to make us focus.

What keeps you motivated: My family — most definitely all my loved ones. I try to do everything to the best of my ability because I don’t want to disappoint them — especially my parents because of all the hard work and money and hours spent. I really  try hard to make sure that didn’t go to waste.

How have the events of 2020 changed you as a Black woman and as an athlete? I don’t feel like I had a big change. I think it’s opened my mind up to certain situations more than ever but because of the environment I was in growing up and the way my parents raised me, I was already aware of stuff going on so it wasn’t such a a shock value to me as it was to others.

What do you wish people knew or understood about college athletes? I wish people understood that we’re not just athletes. Yes, I am blessed to be an athlete, but I had to work for it. I think a lot of people see us and think everything is given to us. And at times I would say yes, but we earned it. We worked for it. We put ourselves in that position. Especially female athletes we get a lot of hate or ignorant comments toward us just because we’re female. People don’t understand college athletics is hard. They don’t see everything that goes on behind the scenes. 

What would your friends and family say about you? They would say I’m a social butterfly. I’m the outgoing  one, the happy one. Even talking to my coaches they’ll say she literally smiles all day, every day. It’s so unintentional. I blame my dad’s side (of the family). I look at pictures and I don’t even know why I’m smiling. They would say I’m very social and I talk a lot one, and two, I’m generous and kind. I try to be a good person in general. I strive to be the person people can come and talk to.  

How do you relax and unwind? I listen to music. A lot of R&B, and lately I’ve been  feeling a lot of country on my playlist: everything; from 90’s 70’s, old school music, then the country side came out when I came to Texas, then R&B. I also credit my music major for exposing me to different cultures and different types of entertainment. I even like Japanese music sometimes. (Jones plays the piano, flute and drums.)

How do you balance it all? I don’t know. My basketball schedule you can’t change so I try to do everything around that. There have been late nights but usually I get it done. I’ve never struggled with balancing my schedule and getting my work in. 

Do you have dreams of playing in the WNBA? Yes, of course I do. I think that’s every little girl’s dream. I want to be able to say I did it. 

Who are your favorite players? Candace Parker. I pattern my game more after the NBA and Tim Duncan. I love the Spurs and I watched him a lot. I liked how patient he was on offense. I grew up watching him. Yes I watched the WNBA of course, but I really watched him. That’s who I tried to match my game to. My patience on offense and making reads, I credit that to him.

Who makes practice fun? Who’s the fun person on the team? We have a lot of characters on the team. It depends upon who wants to be the loud or energetic one that day. Everyone is their own person, they all bring different energy to the team. We all have separate personalities. None of us are the same and I love it. We are different in our own way. If I had to say one person, it’s Zaay (Green). She’s happy all the time. It could be seven o’clock in the morning and she come in the gym — ‘Hey guys!’ I’ve never seen her upset.

What is your greatest fear? I don’t know if I would call it a fear. Because of my religions I’ve been trying to get into the mentality of give it all up to God. I really have tried not to talk about any type of fear and anytime I feel fearful or anything I try to turn it into an opportunity or a challenge.

I’ve been trying to get out of the mindset of thinking too hard and making things more than what it needs to be. I’ve really been praying a lot and trying to get into a mentality of if you have God, you shouldn’t fear anything. I have disappointments but I don’t think I’ve been fearful in a really long time

Which living person (s) do you most admire? I admire my grandmothers for what they've gone through and still been able to smile. Especially as they get older, you lose people, and for them to be able to tell us to wipe our eyes and not cry. I love them for that. My parents. When you’re younger you don’t realize the struggles or what they’ve gone through. I feel like as I get older I’m able to understand the stuff that happened when I was younger and how they handled it so I admire them for that. 

What is your greatest achievement? My degree. Just because I did it in three years (graduated in August 2020) and that was great. The late nights. The all-nighters. Yeah, my degree. Next will probably be getting drafted and then getting my master’s. 

How does the team bond? A lot of talking. Seeing each other after games. Not letting others into our bubble but us. Having movie night. Doing each other’s hair. That’s how we try to bond. We are doing a good job of talking, of communicating. That’s our main goal — communicating.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? My confidence level. In certain situations I feel like I could have more confidence. I could speak up more. It took me a long time to get where I am but I know I have a lot farther to go. I wish my confidence were stronger but I am working to get there. 

What would you tell your 10-year-old self? Your time is going to come. Not to worry about not getting recognized or not feel like you weren’t  good enough for certain people. Just keep going.