Haley Jones, on eve of final Stanford home games, reflects on her Cardinal journey

STANFORD — Haley Jones has seen a whole lot of change in her four years at Stanford.

From the global pandemic halting school and sports to a nationwide racial reckoning to new financial rules in college sports, it has been a whirlwind time to be a college athlete. And that doesn’t even count the national championship Stanford won in 2021 when Jones was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

“This is definitely my first normal-ish year of college,” Jones said. “Which has been great. Wish I had this for four. But I feel like I’ve seen it all. Like, unprecedented stuff, stuff I’ve never even imagined.”

The senior star will play her final home games at Maples Pavilion this weekend in the NCAA Tournament, with the first one for the No. 1 Cardinal on Friday night against 16th-seed Sacred Heart.

Jones’ Stanford career was never a sure thing, even though she attended the Cardinal’s basketball camps as a child and went to high school at San Jose’s Archbishop Mitty, where she was a three-time Bay Area News Group player of the year.

In fact, way back in seventh grade, Jones was ready to commit to the first school that offered her a scholarship: UC Santa Barbara. She recalled telling her parents, “Gauchos for life.”

Soon, bigger programs called: Geno Auriemma of UConn, Dawn Staley of South Carolina, Muffett McGraw of Notre Dame and Kelly Graves of Oregon all tried to convince Jones to play for them.

In the end, Tara VanDerveer and the allure of a Stanford education kept Jones only 45 minutes from her hometown of Santa Cruz.

Once she got to campus, though, she found success — and she has made an impact through the cultural changes she’s experienced, too.

Matters far larger than sports came to the forefront in her freshman year when the Cardinal’s season was ended by the COVID pandemic. Then racial unrest unfolded following the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd in May 2020. It was after Floyd’s killing that Jones, who is Black, found her voice.

“This fight is not a fight between black and white. This fight is between right and wrong. The injustices that happen in our society against us are wrong and maddening,” Jones wrote in an Instagram post days after Floyd’s killing.

Whether the message was about Black Lives Matter, equality for female athletes or raising awareness of mental health issues, Jones has often been the voice to the outside world, explaining the reason behind Stanford’s message.

It’s more than just playing your sport.#GoStanford pic.twitter.com/TaBtit9GZg

— Stanford Women’s Basketball (@StanfordWBB) January 22, 2023

It was during that 2021 NCAA Tournament that Jones and the Cardinal helped kick off a push for gender equity, as athletic trainer Ali Kershner highlighted the discrepancies between equipment provided at the men’s tournament versus the women’s tournament.

The structure of college sports has also changed. Not only have transfer limits been loosened, but the pandemic allowed some players to stay in college longer. For Jones and her fellow seniors, it meant the leaders from their freshman season were still around until last year.

“She didn’t have to focus on being a leader because you had Alyssa Jerome or Anna Wilson — Anna played here for like 17 years,” VanDerveer said. “This year, I think that Haley and her other seniors, that job falls to them.”

One area where Jones has led the way is the name, image and likeness (NIL) space, which has changed the financial side of college sports. In 2021, the NCAA lifted its ban on players profiting off their standing as public figures after a related ruling by the Supreme Court. Both Jones and teammate Cameron Brink have been at the forefront of utilizing their NIL rights to generate profit.

“She’s been able to utilize her success on the court and her marketability as a young woman to have terrific deals,” said Jones’ high school coach, Sue Phillips, who uses Jones as an example for current Mitty players. “She’s got to be making a pretty penny.”

Jones’ social media accounts show several sponsored posts, and she has long-term deals with Nike, SoFi, Beats by Dre headphones and The Players Tribune, where she hosts her “Sometimes I Hoop” podcast. VanDerveer also made sure to note that Jones has been very generous to her teammates through her NIL deals, working with those same brands to arrange for gifts.

“It’s my team and it’s also my community,” Jones said, adding that she used her Nike connection to gift shoes to the team at Division III Colorado College, where her brother Cameron coaches. “I know I wouldn’t be in the position to do these things without my family, without my teammates. I’m not who I am without my team.”

Jones also wouldn’t be getting those NIL dollars if she wasn’t immensely talented. She’s a two-time All-American and a Final Four Most Outstanding Player on a national championship team. She brings a style of play that has led VanDerveer to compare her to Magic Johnson on several occasions.

“People love watching her play,” VanDerveer said. “Just the versatility that she has, that high, high basketball IQ, her contributing. I mean, just her passing is phenomenal, her rebounding. All the different things she does for our team.”

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She’ll likely be able to help another team later this year, too. Once she’s through this tournament, Jones will turn pro and assuredly be a first-round pick in the WNBA Draft.

For now, she’s focused on the next three weeks, which include a maximum of six games left for the Cardinal. She has tried to keep the sentiment of finality out of the season because “then I’d be crying at every game.”

But playing these final games in Maples — in front of her parents, both sets of grandparents, other family and close friends and so many people from Santa Cruz — means she can’t help it.

“It’s definitely a little sad, but I’m trying to find more appreciation than the feeling of loss,” Jones said.

Jones still has a customary photo with VanDerveer from that Stanford camp when she was 8. It has a different meaning, now that she has helped the legendary coach win her first title in nearly two decades.

“You just never know, when you’re taking that picture, who they’re going to become,” VanDerveer said. “It’s a very rare camper that goes on to be an All-American at Stanford.”

Tara VanDerveer and Haley Jones take a photo after a then-8-year-old Jones attended Stanford’s summer basketball camp. (Photo courtesy of Stanford athletics and Haley Jones) 

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