Southern Mississippi coach Joye Lee-McNelis said Kelsey Jones is a perfect example of what hard work can accomplish on a college campus.
Adjusting to life with the Golden Eagles was difficult for Jones after graduating from Starkville High School a couple of years ago.
Lee-McNelis has watched Jones grow during her time on the Hattiesburg campus and has been proud of her development as a young person even more than a basketball player.
“I call Kelsey Jones my kid,” Lee-McNelis said. “I call Kelsey my child. I’m going to tell you this about Kelsey Jones. Kelsey came to Southern Miss and was challenged academically and honestly didn’t know how to handle it. She just didn’t and it was hard for her.”
Lee-McNelis knew it was not an easy thing for Jones going from what was considered “rock star” status with the Lady Yellow Jackets and then having to sit out a year with the Golden Eagles and not being able to play.
It caused some tense moments between player and coach.
“She and I were at war,” Lee-McNelis said. “She said she thought her mom was tough until she met me, but I tell you I love Kelsey.”
Lee-McNelis said she has watched as Jones went from someone who didn’t want to attend study hall or tutoring to someone who has committed to putting in more study hall hours and asks for more tutoring.
“She gets perfect attendance in all of the academic areas,” Lee-McNelis said.
It was a homecoming for Jones as Southern Miss played at Mississippi State on Saturday.
Even though the Golden Eagles lost the game 91-58, being inside Humphrey Coliseum brought back some memories for Jones.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played on this court,” Jones said. “The last time I played here I was in high school and we were getting ready to play for the championship in Jackson, so it was great having this opportunity to play in front of my home town and playing against a top 10 school. It was great. I learned a lot of things too.”
Jones played well for Southern Miss in almost 25 minutes of action. She led her team in rebounds with five and scored in double digits with 12 points.
That production came at times against the much-taller Bulldogs.
“It was a lot of size,” Jones said. “I can do better. I’m still working.”
Mississippi State head coach Vic Schaefer was glad to see that Jones was doing well for the Golden Eagles.
Jones was a teammate of Schaefer’s daughter Blair at SHS, so he has followed her career for a while.
“Great job and really happy for her,” Schaefer said. “I watched her in high school and I was happy for her play in front of the home crowd. Her high school coaches did a good job with her and I am happy for that kid - no doubt about it.”
Jones is becoming a more popular figure on the Southern Miss campus just because of how she is handling her business on and off the court.
Lee-McNelis is anxious to see where Jones’ journey ends up.
“Kelsey is loved on our campus,” Lee-McNelis said. “Everybody now knows who Kelsey Jones is. Her confidence on the basketball court has continued to grow. Kelsey has come so far in wanting to be great and working to be great. Kelsey Jones has a special career ahead of her at Southern Miss because now Kelsey Jones wants it and through work, that will happen.
“She is a winner and a competitor. She hates to lose and I think that’s what is going to make her special. She is going to get her degree from Southern Miss and may be able to run for mayor in Hattiesburg before it’s all over with.”