(The following article was published April 24, 2007, in the Macon Telegraph.)
By Sarah Meinecke
Mercer head women's basketball coach Janell Jones stops short of calling her life stressful.
She does so, in spite of the fact that since being hired April 9 to become the head coach of the Bears, Jones has been flying from Georgia to Oklahoma to California and back again, while recruiting and hiring assistant coaches.
Not to mention the former University of California-San Diego coach is trying to buy a house and a car and coordinate another cross-country trip to see her son, Kyle, graduate from Oklahoma.
Maybe it just sounds stressful.
"It's been fast-paced," said Jones on a Friday morning, fresh off on recruiting trip. "It's pretty much been a whirlwind. It's fun and exciting. The people in Macon have been friendly and helpful."
But there is a lot Jones needs to oversee by herself. For one, she must hire a coaching staff to help with the priority of recruiting the best possible players to help the Bears improve off last season's disappointments.
Mercer finished with only five wins, all the while wondering who would be its next head coach. And it was Jones who stood out among the candidates - thanks mainly to her 225-24 record in her seven-year career.
A lot of that has to do with Jones' approach to coaching, which is led by work. Hard work.
"One of the things I told the girls is that everything is based off work ethic," said Jones, whose cell phone and office phone rang regularly through the morning. "(The team) seems hungry and excited. If I get these girls to buy into it, the rest will come on board.
"It's going to be how the girls buy into it and (that) they understand hard work is the premise to anything that is going to happen here."
Jones has seen the results of hard work first hand, especially last season with UC-San Diego. When she took over the team two years ago, Jones adopted a program that had just two starters returning to the squad that hands out no scholarships.
From that lean talent base, Jones found former players who had quit the team before she arrived, and coupled that with players who showed athletic ability, and she had formed the squad she dubbed, "the little bunch of misfits."
That first year, the NCAA Division II team that was picked to finish eighth in its conference came in second, a game out of first place.
"That summer, we stressed the importance of summer workouts," Jones said. "There were no scholarships, so they paid their way to stay there. (The players) worked out three to four days a week."
And the team set goals, the highest of which was to make it to the Division II Elite Eight. Jones and her team instead made it all the way to the Final Four.
"They way overachieved what they thought they could do," Jones said. "Every team we played was 100 times more athletic, but we did things together."
Just days after the Final Four loss, Jones accepted the Mercer position, taking over a team in desperate need of the magic that Jones seemed to bring to UC-San Diego.
Not that it is going to be easy.
Jones described a preseason schedule that will include working out at 6 a.m. three times a week, year-round weight-lifting and lots of conditioning and stretching workouts.
"Mercer is fortunate to have attracted a proven winner to lead our women's basketball program," Mercer president William D. Underwood said of Jones' hiring. "Under the leadership of Janell Jones, we believe women's basketball at Mercer will be in great hands."
Jones doesn't want to wait for things to turn around.
"We want to win games next year," she said. "The positive is that (the team) knows how hard it is going to be, but it will pay off."
Contact Meinecke at 744-4248