Maryland basketball fans certainly remember the name Tom “Speedy” Jones, the 6-foot-6 power forward who played alongside Len Bias in the 1980s, averaging about seven points and four rebounds for those standout Terps teams.
Now, some two decades later, College Park, Md., will welcome Jones’ daughter, soon-to-be 16-year-old Rainelle Jones, a long, wiry class of 2018 recruit who committed to UMD in early April.
But Rainelle Jones won’t be suiting up for Brenda Frese’s women’s hoops team. Rather, she’ll will be lining up as a middle blocker for volleyball coach Steve Aird.
“Growing up it was just basketball. My mom [Michelle Jones] played basketball and my dad played basketball, and that’s what I was going to do too,” said the 6-2 Jones, who stars for Oxon Hill High (Md.) and the Metro American Volleyball Club in Maryland. “But when I was getting ready to go to high school my mom started finding out about volleyball and how it could help me get better at basketball, so I decided to try it. And then I just fell in love with it, like almost immediately.”
Jones can recall the exact moment when she changed allegiances from hoops to volleyball. It was during her very first game with a Virginia-area metro squad, Jones starting in the middle-front.
During the initial volley, Jones rose up, extended her hose-length arms skyward and blocked a spike at the net. It was the first point the then-14-year-old had ever recorded in a live game.
“It was my first game, so I was really scared, but I was also really pumped up,” Jones said. “It was a pretty intense atmosphere, and when I scored, and then our team started scoring points, I was just so excited. I just fell in love [with volleyball].
“The thing I loved most was just how the team comes together after each point and really supports each other. In basketball, you don’t always get to do that, but in volleyball you’re all in it together, so that’s why I fell in love with it.”
After a year with the Virginia club team, Jones entered Oxon Hill, where she learned from head coach Alva Amaker. Amaker said the freshman was still a “work in progress,” but came in with plenty of raw potential and developing skills.
“Right away the height caught your eye, but the desire to learn; the quit wit; the way she retained information and put it into action; and how easily she picked up the game, you could tell Rainelle was just right,” Amaker said. “She’s hungry for the game, and there’s so much upside there. Maryland saw that right away.”
While Jones possesses plenty of physical talent (what Amaker dubbed, “that volleyball look”), it was her ability to control a game and command respect that impressed the coach most.
While most freshmen take a backseat to upperclassmen, Jones was thrust into a leadership role, which she gradually accepted before taking the proverbial bull by the horns.
“With [Jones] coming from club ball, even being a freshman in high school, she already had insight she could share with the team,” Amaker said. “The kind of knowledge and experience she gained after just one year gave her a different perspective. So she was able to redirect the other girls on the floor and be an encouraging leader, even though she was talking to teammates two and three years older than her.
“And that meant a lot to us and really helped our chemistry, because it’s different when a peer is directing you and helping you and when I’m directing you.”
Jones admitted she stayed relatively quiet at first, but when Amaker urged her to speak up she decided to take charge.
“Everyone on the team was just so welcoming and together, so when my coach offered me a chance to be the leader, I decided I was ready to take that on,” said Jones, who has a "rainbows and butterflies" outlook on life, remaining positive and rarely dwelling on the negative. "There wasn’t really any [animosity]; we all just enjoyed being out there together. No one really thought about class year or anything.”
The freshman sensation not only helped guide her teammates, but she excelled at the net like a seasoned veteran. Jones was downright dominant at times, racking up multiple blocks and kills each time she took the floor.
“As a middle blocker, her timing was so good, her footwork was solid and her presence in the middle kept people from hitting right at her,” Amaker said. “And just her overall energy and high level of play, she was great for having only a little over a year’s experience.”
Following that initial campaign, Jones was able to play for a more advanced club team, the Metro American Volleyball Club. Now, she was not only competing against some of the best girls in the U.S., but she was able to travel the country, exposing her to numerous recruiters and college coaches.
“This has been a whirlwind for us,” Michelle Jones said. “Rainelle only stared playing volleyball a couple years ago, and to be where she is now, with all these colleges contacting her and looking at her, it’s so exciting for us.”
It was on this summer circuit where Steve Aird and UMD identified Jones as a can’t-miss talent. Of course, numerous other program were (and are) after Jones as well, but she wasn’t about to turn down the hometown school.
“The coaches saw me and they immediately wanted to offer,” Jones said. “I didn’t want to wait too long [to accept it], because the offer might not be there forever, and I knew I wanted to go to Maryland. I went to [the Terps’] camp when I was 14, and it was super fun, but also intense and motivating. The coaches were so nice, and the [Terps] players were awesome. So I just loved it there after that, and I decided to commit. I’m still extremely excited about it, and it’s a great opportunity for me.”
Jones didn’t really think about the significance of her commitment at the time, however. She said Speedy Jones didn’t say a whole lot about Maryland, opting to let his daughter make her own decision.
“It is exciting to be going to the same school as him. He didn’t say much when I committed or when I was offered, but I could tell he was pretty excited when I picked Maryland,” Jones said. “He has the experience there and he can teach me more about Maryland the next couple years before I get there. We’re all really happy I’m going there.”
But with three-plus years before arriving in College Park, there’s plenty Jones is focused on in the meantime. Namely, continuing to improve her volleyball IQ, honing her fundamentals and positioning herself better for attacks/kill shots.
Her immediate goal this offseason is to make the USA High Performance volleyball squad. It’s an international team that competes against the crème de crème from the United States and beyond.
“I still have a lot to learn and a lot to look forward to [before Maryland],” Jones said. “I’m excited and it’s great to have my college picked out already, but I’m still getting better as an all-around player.”
Legacy Commit Jones A Star In The Making
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