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By Arthur Wilkie, UCSB Athletics Communications Intern & WBB road radio broadcaster
SANTA BARBARA – For redshirt senior point guard Paris Jones, the decision to transfer from LIU Brooklyn to UC Santa Barbara for her final year of eligibility was one that was made with more than just on-court success in mind.
Now, as the Gauchos' season approaches the halfway point of Big West Conference play, the Riverside, Calif. native is fully reaping the benefits of that decision.
Jones was recently announced as a member of the 2019 class of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's (WBCA) longrunning "So You Want To Be A Coach" program, a three-day experience meant to give participants from all three NCAA divisions and the NAIA an insight on how to secure coaching positions within the sport.
"I still want to be around basketball when it's all over for me, playing-wise. My sisters play and I want to help them and be around when my younger sister gets to college. I'm interested in developing players and I still love the game," says Jones on her motivation to enter the coaching realm.
This year's "So" program, now in its 17th year, is slated to take place in Tampa Bay, Fla. from April 3-5 along with the WBCA Convention and overlapping with the Women's Final Four. "So" follows a workshop-style format with speakers, opportunities to connect with current and former coaches and administrators, and chances to develop necessary skills.
"The coaches all texted me and let me know that I was a part of the program and I was so excited. I've heard so many great things about it, and it's such a high rate of [program graduates] that end up getting a job right after that which is amazing for me," Jones added.
If there's one thing the "So" program is known for, it's giving participants the tools they need for success in the coaching industry. The WBCA claims that over 400 former participants are currently serving as coaches or are in other roles in basketball.
Jones in action in the Gauchos' game against CSU Bakersfield on November 9. (Photo by Jeilo Gauna)
Having spent the last four years on the other side of the country, Jones arrived at UCSB in early August to play out her final season of basketball, finish up her Master's degree in Education, and put herself in a position to make progress toward her goal of becoming a head coach.
After playing in the first nine games of the Gauchos' season and having started the opening four contests, Jones suffered a lower-body injury that kept her out of action for five matches over the course of a month.
Having already been forced to sit out the 2016-17 season for LIU Brooklyn due to injury, Jones could very well have reacted negatively to another setback. Instead, she made the most of her time on the sideline by closely observing the Gaucho coaching staff and learning as much as possible about the ins-and-outs of running a Division I program.
"When I was out, I got to sit back and look at what [UCSB Head] Coach Bonnie [Henrickson] and the other coaches were doing, and I was picturing myself doing those things. I can't wait to do that," Jones said.
Jones has helped in several camps and clinics put on by the team. Recently, she joined the coaching staff at Girls Inc. of Santa Barbara to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day on February 6. From left: former UCSB forward Sweets Underwood '14, Head Coach Bonnie Henrickson, Assistant Coaches Nneka Enemkpali, Eliza Pierre, and Nate Fripp, Director of Operations Ashlee Klingenberg, and Jones. (Photo courtesy Facebook/UCSB Women's Basketball)
Jones's willingness to learn during that period wasn't lost on Henrickson.
"When she was out, I would always have her come stand by me or I'd stand by her on the baseline and she'd tell me, 'Coach, we don't set screens!' and I'd tell her 'You're right Paris, we've got to be better at screens,' so I could start to tell that she was starting to look at it differently, not that she didn't notice that before, but I think her level of being able to dissect was already starting to get better," said the Gauchos' fourth-year head coach.
Of course, the announcement that Jones would be a "So" participant was met with enthusiasm from the entire UCSB coaching staff.
"I was excited when I first talked to Paris and got to know her that that's what she wanted to do. It's special when they want to coach. For me, it's personal because I take a lot of joy and pride in being able to do whatever I can to help. Our staff embraces that too because we're all 'Team Paris' in the business. We want to be able to help her grow and afford her the opportunities to make connections and build relationships."
"She's so excited and she has no idea how special the opportunity is," Henrickson continued, "There are a lot of really talented people in the business that got their start there because someone took them under their wing, nominated them, and spoke on their behalf."
The "So" program also encourages women of color and minority candidates to apply. Throughout her long coaching career, Henrickson has committed to helping others get their start, specifically coaches of color.
"There's so much diversity in our game and not so much in our business. There's a number [of women of color in head coaching jobs], but they're not enough. I do think we're underrepresented with minority women in our business."
On what the future holds for Paris Jones though, Henrickson couldn't hide her elation about what a great opportunity the "So" program is.
"She has no idea. She's going to meet people there in a weekend that it might have taken me two years to meet."
Coach Paris Jones, coming soon to a sideline near you.
Listen to the interviews with Paris Jones and Bonnie Henrickson, recorded prior to the Gauchos' February 2 game at UC Riverside, below.