BURLINGTON, Okla. — Since the time Jade Jones attended her first basketball game at less than a week old, the sport has been the center of her life.
"I've been around basketball forever," she said. "I've just never imagined myself doing something not around basketball."
Just two months after her playing career concluded at Northwestern Oklahoma State, the 24-year old was given an opportunity to continue her passion. Only this time on the sidelines as the head coach of Burlington High girls basketball.
Jones was named the new coach on May 28, three weeks after it was announced her predecessor Kirsten Pruett left the Lady Elks for the same position at Cherokee High.
Although Jones visioned herself becoming a coach most of her life, the brief time it took for that goal to come into sight after her time as a player surprised her.
"I didn't think I'd be a head coach this fast," Jones said. "It happened sooner than I thought."
A connected consideration
When the position at Burlington opened, Jones didn't apply. There wasn't much thought behind it, either. It wasn't until Burlington Director of Athletics and former longtime basketball coach Randy Turney approached Jones about the opening that she gave it a real consideration.
At first Jones thought Turney was kidding. But after he continued to press, Jones conceded.
"'OK, I guess I'm in,'" Jones said to Turney.
One doesn't have to do much digging to find the connection between Jones and Turney. Tasha Diesselhorst, Turney's daughter, is the head women's basketball coach at Northwestern where Jones played her final two seasons of college basketball.
Before that, Diesselhorst was the head girls basketball coach at Pond Creek-Hunter, where Jones attended high school. In fact, Diesselhorst coached Jones from sixth grade through her senior year in 2014 when the Lady Panthers won the Class A State Championship.
Over all those years, Turney developed an understanding for Jones' knowledge of the game and could see her potential as a coach.
"I wasn't really scared about her not having any experience because of her background she's had," Turney said.
Jones isn't a stranger to coaching. Her dad, Darin Jones, has more than a decade of experience and is the current head boys basketball coach at Pond Creek-Hunter.
The collective influence and guidance from her dad, Turney and Diesselhorst gives the first-year coach a sizable boost to starting her new career.
"They taught me more than I could have ever wanted to learn just by talking to them," she said.
Unselfishness of a new coach
Diesselhorst, who was just 23 years old when she began coaching at Pond Creek-Hunter, is confident Jade Jones' love for basketball and working with kids will lead to success.
"I think those girls are going to be extremely lucky to have a young girl that just finished playing and has been in their shoes not too long ago," Diesselhorst said. "I think she'll relate really well to them, and I think they'll respond well to her."
It took only a few days after Jones accepted the position before she met all of the players at Burlington. She wants them to understand that she's invested in them and they are her top priority.
Jones is quick to admit she learned her selfless character from her mom, Trisha, who was always there to take Jones and her brother, Cole, to tournaments, listen to their frustrations after bad games and make sure all the little things were taken care of so they could accomplish their dreams.
"She's the reason I am just the person I am," Jones said. "Not even basketball or coaching, just the person.
"As a coach, I'm going to put these players first. I'm going to put them before myself, because that's how I've grown up. I'm going to give them my best just like I've always gotten in my life."
Jones doesn't want to be a coach that is constantly changing locations. As long as she's happy in Burlington, she's not leaving.
That unselfishness even presented itself when Jade was playing. In her two seasons at Northwestern, Jones recorded a combined 247 assists, twice as many as the next highest total for a Lady Ranger during that span.
In her dad's opinion, the best coaches were great passers before they moved to the sidelines.
"Those people that can really pass the ball, they see everything," Darin Jones said. "They get the big picture. That was her forte as a player. She got more excited about making an assist than making a three or a two."
'The future is bright'
Jade Jones admits she's a little nervous given the high expectations at Burlington. Former coach Kirsten Pruett led Burlington to its sixth straight Class B State Tournament in her final season. People in the Burlington community anticipate the girls basketball team to be in the running for a state title.
But Jones wouldn't have taken the job if she didn't think she was ready. And she's not afraid of the challenge.
"I'd rather be in that position than coaching a team that isn't used to winning," she said.
A key factor behind the recent success of the Lady Elks was Pruett's defense-first approach. She believes defense is the one thing a team can always dictate. Offensive production can vary, but defense is all effort and heart.
Jones knows this is the style of play Burlington is known for and intends to continue that as she takes over.
"Defense will win you championships, that's for sure," Jones said.
She'll also add in her own principles and ideas using a combination of philosophies she learned from those who taught and coached her in previous years.
Burlington returns 10 girls that played in all 30 games last season, including two of its top scorers offensively. Anna Motycka, a senior, and Kayla Highfill, a junior, combined to average over 30 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Those numbers alone are enough to get Jones excited for next season.
"With the talent at Burlington, the future is bright, that's for sure," she said. "With them making it to state the past six years, it definitely should happen the next few years as well."