By Matt Larsen
The green scoreboards with “hustle stats” stamped boldly across them in white letters that hung from the Ferrell Center ceiling may have come down when Baylor’s basketball arena got a makeover this last winter.
But coach Kim Mulkey and the Lady Bears’ passion for the section of the stat sheet that documents assists, rebounds, blocks and steals has done anything but collect dust this past season.
If Mulkey could pick a player who embodied these stats in 2011 and really ever since setting foot on campus, she would look straight to senior Melissa Jones.
Actually, she did pick Jones to embody these stats.
In addition to retiring her jersey earlier this month, the women’s basketball program created an annual Hustle and Courage Award, made Jones’ the first recipient of it and then finally named the award after her.
The speech communication major and two-year captain will graduate this May having set career or season marks in all of the “hustle” categories except blocks.
The guard finishes eighth on the school career steals list with 199.
She picked up 135 of her team’s 606 assists as a senior this last year to notch the fourth highest season assist mark in Baylor history.
Then hauled in 248 rebounds to secure the school’s No. 9 spot for rebounds in a season.
And yet most coaches, Mulkey included, don’t need the stat sheet to explain Jones’ impact on the floor.
Opposing coach after opposing coach shuffled up to the microphone during the postgame press conference with words of praise for the captain but one word stuck out more than others.
“Melissa Jones is the glue that holds this team together,” Mulkey and numerous opposing coaches said.
The word glue does not carry shiny, glamorous connotations but that’s exactly what seems to draw teammates, coaches and fans.
“I think people just love watching her play because she gives everything she’s got, because that’s how the game should be played,” junior Lindsay Palmer said.
Jones does not need a basket and bright lights to draw a crowd, though.
Palmer witnessed firsthand her teammate’s magnetic personality in a dirt field with soccer goals while on a Sports Mission Trip to Kenya last summer. For the second straight year, Jones and Palmer took part in the Baylor-sponsored trip that hosted several sports clinics and did repair work on a rehab-house this past summer.
“There was a time she was with toddlers at some school,” Palmer said. “She was the only white person there. She was this pale-skinned girl and she was sitting there playing duck-duck goose with all these little kids running around and we were like, at least she is easy to spot. It was so cute. They were all over her.”
While little children seemed to flock to her, Jones remains convinced she has been the one most changed by her time spent in Kenya.
“My intentions were to go over there and to help play with kids and share God’s Word with everybody. To get Jesus Christ known around the world,” she said. “There was one particular memory from this last summer of several individuals who have diseases from jiggers. I came to realize that we may be washing a physical part of their lives but at the same time we have our own disease and that’s called sin. That was something I could relate to and that was something that really hit my heart.”
When not washing feet or playing duck-duck goose amidst a cluster of African children, Jones spends her summer time training and coaching younger girls on the basketball court in her hometown of Thornton, Colo.
Palmer said she finds a way to live the same no matter what continent or court she sets foot.
“She gives a lot of herself to other people,” she said. “She legitimately wants the team to succeed first and foremost. That’s very evident throughout her whole life.”
The Melissa Jones Hustle and Courage Award pretty much says it.
The soon-to-be graduate spent the past four years giving much of her sweat and the occasional tear in a lifestyle of pouring out her energy for the sake of a team and its mission.
But since shiny plaques are not her style, one must ask: has it been worth it?
For Jones, it seemed there couldn’t be an easier question.
“Every step of the way,” she said.