Former Nazareth star Tiffany Jones had written a storybook beginning to her basketball career with a championship senior season. A fairytale ending eventually followed, but not before three years out of a horror story.
She committed to national-power Syracuse in 2011 and won the most-valuable-player award at the Federation tournament after leading Nazareth to the school’s first-ever state Class AA girl’s basketball title. Jones however never played a game for the Orange because she couldn’t meet NCAA academic requirements. She ended up down in Florida at Tallahassee Community College.
It was during that already demoralizing exile that her high school coach and father figure Apache Paschall died of a heart attack in January of 2012.
“A lot of people gave up on me,” she said. “After Apache died, people didn’t think I was going to continue playing basketball.”
Jones moved back to the city the next year to be closer to home and enrolled at ASA junior college, where she continued to play until a second profound loss shook her resolve.
Her mother died in June 2013, sending the promising young athlete into a spiral of uncertainty about her future at school and on the court.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to go back to school or what I wanted to do,” Jones said.
But she recalled her late mother’s advice, and resolved to honor her memory by pushing forward in her college career and striving for a better life.
“She always wanted an education,” Jones said. “She always told me, ‘if you have an education nobody can ever take that away from you.’ ”
So after a year away from the court, Jones enrolled at Seton Hall University in June of 2014. She still had wait to get on the court for the Pirates, because she didn’t meets NCAA academic standards yet, but she studied hard and practiced, and bettered herself as her mother had wanted.
Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella said those months were tough for her as a player, but were ultimately beneficial to her maturity as a person.
“When I first got here, I was like, ‘I made it,’ ” Jones said.
When her time finally came in December, Jones’s impact on the court was immediate and instrumental in the Pirates (28-5) winning the program’s first Big East regular-season title and reaching the conference title game.
The 6-foot-3 junior forward is averaging 6.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 17.6 minutes per contest. She also has 21 blocks and 13 steals. Jones scored 14 points in the Pirates’ 78–68 loss to DePaul in the Big East title game March 10.
She had a career-high 20 points in a win over Creighton, but that wasn’t the game that convinced Bozzella how big a factor Jones could be. He pointed to her nine rebounds in road wins over Villanova and Georgetown.
“She has the ability to come off the bench and score eight points to 20 points,” the coach said. “She is a shot blocker, a great defender. We can play her all over the place.”
Bozzella thinks Jones will be an All-Conference First Team talent once her conditioning matches her skill level and her ball handling improves.
Her focus now is on helping the nationally-ranked Pirates make the most of the program’s first NCAA tournament berth in two decades. Seton Hall faces in-state rival Rutgers in the first round on March 21.
It’s a fitting reward for Jones’s perseverance, never giving up on what she wanted, even when it would have been easy — and understandable — to do so.
“I went through some stuff in my life,” Jones said. “Then I remember this is what I wanted to do. This is my way out.”
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