Jonesing for Syracuse: Naz forward felt most love from Orange

Syracuse was always in the picture for Tiffany Jones. The first college letter she got was from the Orange when she was in eighth grader.

But the Nazareth senior forward was warming to other schools in the last few months. Places like North Carolina, Baylor, Memphis and Florida State intrigued her. Then the July evaluation period came and though she was on the court with her Exodus NYC AAU team she couldn’t help but noticing people clad in orange not too far away — whether it was a game in New Orleans, Tennessee or Georgia.

“They were always there,” Jones said. “They were at all my games this summer with front-row seats.”

In the end, that kind of love made all the difference for the top senior forward in New York City. Jones, a long, 6-foot-3 athlete who is ranked in the top 70 in her class by scouting services, committed to Syracuse and head coach Quentin Hillsman on Tuesday night after an open gym at Nazareth, her new school.

“They wanted me since the eighth grade,” she said.

Jones is also enamored with playing in the Big East, which she calls “the best conference out there.” Plus, it didn’t hurt that a multitude of Exodus alums — like Nicole Michael and Erica Morrow — went on to Syracuse and succeeded there.

“When you have somebody there that you know and identify with, you can call them and get the skinny,” Nazareth and Exodus NYC coach Apache Paschall said. “You can really find out how it is somewhere.”

Right now, Jones is adjusting to Nazareth after coming over with her teammates and Paschall from St. Michael Academy, which closed its doors in June. She said the Brooklyn school is a completely different experience since it’s co-ed, while St. Mike’s was all-girls.

“It’s a great school,” Jones said.

The goal, though, remains the same. Jones wants Nazareth to win the New York State Federation Class AA title like St. Mike’s did when she was a sophomore. She also went one further – she thinks the Lady Kingsmen will win and she thinks she will take her game to a whole new level.

“Nobody is gonna be better than me this year,” Jones said. “I’m gonna make the McDonald’s [All-American] game this year.”

Paschall has plenty of faith in her ability. He thinks her best days are ahead of her and she’ll realize that potential at Syracuse.

“Once she gets up there, learns the system and gets out of the city, I think by the end of her sophomore year she’ll start to play pro [level] ball,” Paschall said.

Defensively, Jones could be an impact player right away. Paschall loves using her, with those long arms, at the top of his trademark “amoeba” zone. Jones can guard just about any position on the floor. On offense, she has very good perimeter skills for her height, including an ever-improving jump shot. Paschall just wants her to maintain her focus and Jones admits she needs to get stronger, perhaps mentally, too.

“Over the summer, she had her disappearing acts,” Paschall said. “But then she would outplay All-Americans.”

Consistency will probably come from maturity. Paschall thinks Jones will benefit greatly from getting out of the city. The teen grew up in a rough area of the Lower East Side.

“Going away to school will be very good for me,” Jones said.

Pretty good for Syracuse, too.