Back in early March, Stevi Jones was more concerned with her senior season of track than the prospect of college basketball. Matter of fact, she had essentially closed the door on pursuing opportunities to continue her hoops career beyond Chadwick.
The COVID-19 pandemic and later, a call from College of the Ozarks coach Becky Mullis, turned Jones' thinking around, leading to her signing a letter of intent with the Lady 'Cats on Thursday.
"At the end of 'ball season this year, I was exhausted," Jones said. "I didn’t want to continue. Then, I stayed home during the break. Staying home and having time to think about it, I got bored and sad that my last game didn’t end how I wanted it to end. Then, (Mullis) contacted me and I had a whole new attitude. I’m super excited she is giving me a shot.
"I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t play," she added. "I’m ready to get going."
While Jones had doubts she wanted to play college ball, she never wavered about her plans to attend C of O. Her brother, Colton, and her sister, Shelby, graduated from C of O. Stevi was a Lady 'Cats summer camper for eight years.
"I was in the fourth grade when I started going to their camps," Jones said. "At first, I was too scared to do the overnight camps. I also went to a lot of their games growing up. C of O is all I’ve ever known as a college. Going into my eighth-grade year, it settled in that I wanted to go on to the next level and wanted to pursue my dream there."
Jones was accepted to C of O prior to being recruited by Mullis.
"I was going to go there whether I played basketball or not," she said. "Coach Mullis had seen I was going to C of O. She contacted me and said she would love to have me, if I wanted to play."
Jones, a member of Chadwick's 1,000-point club and an All-Mark Twain selection throughout her Lady Cardinals career, knows it will be no easy task going from the Class 1 prep ranks to the NAIA level. She is striving to elevate all parts of her game.
"(Mullis) has told me all about her offense and defense. It’s mainly like what we do here — quick motion offense, man-to-man defense and you have to play hard," Jones said. "She says she looks for toughness and if you’re willing to give it your all out on the floor.
"My defense is not where I need it to be. That’s what I’m working on and my quickness and lateral movement," she added. "I’m working hard to get where coach wants me to be on the defensive end. In high school, you train toward what you are expected to do and you know what that it is. Now, I don’t know what I’m expected to do, so I’m training to do everything."
Jones’ workstations duties will have her working in the processing plant 15 hours a week at Point Lookout. Having grown up on a beef farm, it fits her background. Recently, she helped her father slaughter hogs for the first time.
"We bought these hogs because all the slaughter houses were closed down," Jones said. "They were huge. We slaughtered them ourselves, cut the meat and cleaned the meat. I got to see what part of the body the meat comes from. It didn’t bother me because I was raised around (animals)."