One-on-one with small guard-big game Londynn Jones

Londynn Jones pushes past Bella Murekatete during a game in January. Kirby Lee photo.

In evolving her game this season, Londynn Jones has not only made marks for herself, but she has helped guide No. 7 UCLA to a third-place Pac-12 finish, and an NCAA Tournament first- and second-round hosting gig.

The sophomore guard has stepped into the starting line up to become the team’s third-leading scorer, at 12.7 points per game. She has bettered her scoring average from the floor, including behind the arc, where she hits 39 percent of the time. In the team’s last regular-season game this past weekend, Jones broke the program record for three-point shots made in a single season, reaching 78.

Two weeks ago she scored a career-high 23 points. And despite being 5-4, Jones has had one block per game this year on eight different occasions. Her fiery play has ignited Bruin runs on several occasions this year. Her no-fear mentality was on display in the team’s last home game, against Colorado, when she raced past three post players to lay the ball up and in.

A Southern California native, Jones scored 2,713 points in four years at Centennial High School in the Inland Empire. She was part of USA Basketball’s U16 team in 2019, the U18 team in 2022 and the U19 team last summer – each of which earned a gold medal.

Jones has two older sisters, Paris and Dalis, both of whom also played Division I basketball. Paris has also coached at the collegiate level. Jones said she chose UCLA because it was “her dream school.” She hopes to play professionally, after which she would like to start a business, among other endeavors.

You’ve increased your scoring significantly since last season. In what ways did you work to improve your game since your freshman year?

My coaching staff does a really good job of preparing me. My first year here was completely different – more fast-paced than high school. My focus this year was getting my feet set early, and being prepared to move at a very quick speed.

Have you been able to adjust and learn quickly?

Once you do it so many times, it’s easy to adjust. I feel like I’m a year in, and having experience has helped.

You also seem even more confident than you were in your first season – especially from behind the three-point line. Where did that mentality come from?

Last year the confidence was there, but it was different coming in from high school. What I was doing in high school, I’m not doing in college. You learn a whole different role in a new system. Coming in this year, I knew what I was capable of. I’m 5-4 and I’ve always been 5-4. So just being dynamic and doing what I do, but also having the confidence in being who I am is the thing.

Did you have a goal or a theme going into this season? You seem like you’re on a mission.

I made a deal with myself in having endurance, and being able to do what I do for 40 minutes straight. I was really working on that in the offseason, and in traveling with Team USA. I always have goals set for myself, but I don’t worry about them. I must perform how I’m going to perform, and the goals will come with it.

I know UCLA has some elite-level strength and conditioning coaches.

That was my thing – I was on the track doing miles. It was a good thing, and I think it’s paid off a lot.

What was your pathway into basketball? You have two older sisters who played Division I ball – did that influence you to take up the sport? It must be nice having female role models in basketball.

They’ve definitely had an amazing impact on me. I first began playing soccer, and that was also their influence, because they wanted me to be different. But over time I just decided that I wanted to do basketball, and my family is extremely competitive. So just seeing my sisters play basketball, I just knew I had to be better than them.

Competing constantly with them, and obviously them playing DI ball as well, was an influence. Then seeing my older sister become a coach gave me insight into what college was like being a basketball player and coach. They’ve been able to give me huge insight into basketball, and I benefitted from that.

When did you realize you loved the game?

I think I just grew into it. I was always around when my mom used to coach travel ball with my dad – I was on my mom’s hip. That’s all I knew; that’s all I was around. That’s how it came. The love of having fun and competing, it was so much fun for me because I was good, too. I was literally competing with my sisters every day.

When we were kids we had this game called ‘foul city,” where we’d have to foul each other, finish through contact and get an and-one. We would always be telling our dad, “call a foul!” And he’d tell us we had to play through it. We created the game because we were so competitive. We played all hours of the night. It was really fun.

That’s where it stemmed from, was in having fun with my loved ones.

You’re a short guard in an era where we now see a lot of taller guards. How do you make the game work for you, given this change?

I feel like just growing up, I was playing a big man’s game, period. Having that confidence is really important because I always have to work 10 times harder than everyone else. It’s something I’m very prideful about, because that’s just who I am. I think what I’m able to do at my size is amazing, because it’s unseen. That’s not what you’re supposed to be doing. I should not be where I am at the height that I am. It hasn’t always been easy throughout my career. I’ve been frustrated and irritated, but that’s what’s made me who I am today.

You’ve said you consider your greatest achievements so far as winning gold medals with USA Basketball. Has your time playing with them allowed you to develop bonds with other players around the country? What is the best thing about playing for team USA?

I think that’s been one of the things I love the most, and one of the things besides basketball that I treasure the most. You’re building relationships; you’re actually building a sisterhood. I still talk to those girls constantly….and when we do cross paths we’re do happy to see each other. We have a blast off the court trash-talking to each other. We are super-competitive. I’m really grateful for the relationships that have been built there.

Londynn Jones goes up for a shot in a game against Canada in 2022. Fiba Basketball photo.

What is the greatest challenge or obstacle that you’ve ever overcome?

That’s hard, but I’d say USA Basketball because it’s an amazing accomplishment. I’m 5-4, so doing it at my height and being so dominant – it’s amazing to me. It didn’t hit me when I first made the team, but having three gold medals is crazy. I had to go to trials multiple times, and no one is guaranteed a spot; you have to keep trying. It’s challenging because of the talent you’re being faced with, and you have to have a mentality to compete and dominate.

Do you want to play professionally, after you graduate from UCLA?

I do want to play professionally, but also want to navigate towards sports broadcasting, so after I’m playing that’s what I want to do.

You said you want to one day start a business. What industry are you considering?

Honestly, anything business-wise related to basketball, whether its a gym or where people can workout in the neighborhood. Sports broadcasting to build connections and lead to other opportunities.

Who are your role models?

Growing up I watched Skylar Diggins a lot, and I went to her camp. That is another person that’s doing what I do and is very dominant in what she does.

Are you a shoe head?

Yes, I’m a sneaker head. I love Jordan 1’s. Those and rDunks are my go-to’s right now.

If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

Always stay true to who you are, and never let your faith waver.