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    Friday, August 19, 2022

    Asjha Jones: All hail the CT Sun's 'marble pillar'

    Former Connecticut Sun star Asjha Jones acknowledges the fans as she is honored on the court following the Sun game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

    Mohegan — For me, it was The Stare. Oh, yes. The best of Asjha Jones. Postgame, Sun locker room. And happily, the media is generally filled with enough dopes who would ask Asjha a stupid question.

    And she would issue The Stare that could peel paint.

    She was always too much of a professional to unload, although perhaps later surrounded by friendlier types, she might trade the stare for a more sardonic demeanor.

    But that's how many of us grew to appreciate the woman immortalized Saturday in the rafters of Mohegan Sun Arena. Asjha Jones didn't tolerate fools. She was earnest and honest, the archetype of a professional and more reliable than insurance premiums rising $50 a year.

    Jones, an all-timer in Connecticut Sun lore and legend, was honored Saturday night, following her old team's victory over Los Angeles. Many old friends from her Sun and UConn days showed up to celebrate with her, long after the cheers from the crowd in Neon Uncasville had become mere echoes.

    Among the night's celebrants, before the banner revealing Jones' name as a Sun Legend (with Nykesha Sales, Katie Douglas, Margo Dydek and Lindsay Whalen) was college coach Geno Auriemma. Geno joked about how necessary it was to have someone as quiet and reserved as Asjha around chatterboxes Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Tamika Williams.

    Auriemma actually said it a lot funnier many years ago on Senior Night about his four aces:

    Bird: "Radar on M*A*S*H. She knows everything about everything and more importantly, she HAS to."

    Williams: "Julie on the Love Boat. The social director. Has to be involved in every social function."

    Cash: "The foil for all the practical jokes. Wants to be the center of attention. Then she's insulted when she is and depressed when she's not."

    Asjha Jones: "You know when you drive up to an estate and you see a huge marble pillar? It sets the tone for what's inside."

    You'll note Auriemma detoured from comedy when he spoke of Jones. And aren't 21-year-olds supposed be described as marbleheads instead of marble pillars?

    But that was Asjha Jones — a pillar — all the way back to her days a kid in Piscataway, N.J., growing up in the shadows of Rutgers. Longtime friend, former UConn assistant and current Wisconsin women's basketball coach Marisa Moseley used the word "consistent" many times in her speech to the crowd. "Asjha is consistent as a friend, consistent as a teammate, consistent as a family member," Moseley said.

    Asjha is all grown up now, working in the front office for the Portland Trail Blazers. This kid we watched grow before our eyes became the only person in women's basketball history to win an NCAA and WNBA championship as a player, a WNBA championship as an assistant coach and a gold medal as a player in both the World Championships and Olympics Games.

    And as you watched this unfold Saturday, your gaze around the arena might have caught Kalana Greene and Ashley Battle. Geno and Kathy. Former Sun assistant coach Scott Hawk. Former Sun great Taj McWilliams-Franklin (who belongs in the rafters, too). All these wonderful people who have come in and out of our lives here in Connecticut, not only putting us on the sports map, but reminding us all over again that even as our lives change, memories really do last forever.

    It's like Dr. Seuss said: "How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon. December before it's June. My goodness, how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?"

    And this, really, has been the joy women's basketball has brought us since the day Geno arrived. Forget all the cool trips, Final Fours and national championships. The real privilege here has been to watch these kids grow — and experience it from the ground floor. As Auriemma said Saturday, "We knew her before she was Asjha Jones."

    Among the greatest laments for yours truly now is the inability to get the know the kids anymore at UConn. Gone are the days of playing pool with Jen Rizzotti, puffing cigars with Kalana Greene and giggling along with Shea Ralph as she'd cite examples of how much Auriemma "cusses" (her word) during practice. They are walled off and cliché-ridden now, bereft of many nuggets and insights we used to hear, see and experience in the old days. The old days when we got to know them and tell better stories to the paying customers.

    But this is no day for lament. This is about joy. This is about the privilege of knowing Asjha, who she is and what she stands for. Mad props to the Sun for honoring her.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

    Former Connecticut Sun star Asjha Jones, right, embraces current team star DeWanna Bonner after Jones' jersey number was unveiled on the Sun Legends banner following the Sun game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
    Former Connecticut Sun star Asjha Jones watches as her jersey number is unveiled on the Sun Legends banner following the Sun game against the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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