COLUMBIA — Missouri sophomore forward Shakara Jones often gets tangled in jargon during her team’s postgame press conferences.
“We wanted everybody to catch the ball in triple-threat and go through execution,” Jones said after the Tigers’ 74-60 victory over Kansas as her teammates giggled in the background.
But while a teammate's playful laughs might fluster many 20-year-olds, Jones always manages to keep a smile on her face as she waits for her next question. Jones’ happy-go-lucky demeanor during interviews is a good illustration of her positive energy, which Missouri coach Cindy Stein says makes her an invaluable member of the team.
“They (her teammates) love her,” Stein said. “There isn’t anybody on the team that doesn’t like her. I think she’s well-loved, and they also know that she’ll take care of them. There’s a trust factor there.”
Talk to any of Jones’ teammates, and they’ll inevitably talk about how she’s a great leader. That is, if they don’t carry on about how nice a person she is.
“We have a lot of positive leaders,” freshman forward Christine Flores said. “But not 24/7. She is always positive. No matter how she feels, no matter what her day was, she’s always positive about everything on this team. She loves everybody, and we’re like family to her.”
Jones said she tries to bring a positive attitude to practices and games because she knows her teammates are bound to get frustrated over the course of a long season, whether the team is winning or losing.
“Not everybody is going to be happy every day,” Jones said. “But if at least one or two people are happy that can bring everybody else up as well.”
But Jones' impact on the team isn’t limited to her character. In a season often plagued by inconsistencies, she has been one of the steadiest performers for the Tigers, averaging 10.7 points while shooting a team-high 54 percent from the field.
Jones might have been one of the most highly recruited players that Stein has been able to sign during her 11-year career at Missouri. Jones was recruited by Pat Summit at the University of Tennessee and garnered numerous awards in high school for her play at Francis Howell High School in St. Charles.
Her name led coaches and teammates to start referring to her as “Shak,” and there have been times this year when she has seemed to share more than a nickname with the NBA superstar. Jones has opened games with a scoring flurry by backing down her opponent in the post and then utilizing a baby hook shot that has developed into one of her most effective moves.
But there also have been many games where Jones' production has tailed off after the opening minutes. Stein says that even though there are stretches where Jones might not be scoring, that doesn’t mean she isn’t contributing.
“I think she finds her moments within the game,” Stein said. “I think that her getting a lot of touches is important, and she creates a lot of things just by her touching the ball.”
Stein said Jones is steadily developing a perimeter game that Jones is not quite comfortable using but that, once refined, could help her mature into the all-conference player that Stein expected her to become when she signed her.
“She’s exactly what we thought she would be (when the Tigers signed her),” Stein said. “And she’s probably well above where we thought she might be too.”
The Tigers (11-11, 2-7) play at 12:30 p.m. Saturday against Baylor (20-3, 8-2).
Missouri (11-11, 2-7) at
Baylor (20-3, 8-2)
When: 12:30 p.m.
Where: Waco, Texas