Jones brings signature skills to Joppatowne

Known for her leaping ability and fearlessness, diminutive senior guard has No. 3 Mariners on track to defend girls Class 1A state title

  • Zameria Jones is averaging 15.2 points, 3.7 steals and 2.9 assists for Joppatowne, which will face No. 9 Dundar on Friday night in the state semifinals.
Zameria Jones is averaging 15.2 points, 3.7 steals and 2.9 assists… (Steve Ruark / Photo for The…)
March 08, 2011|By Katherine Dunn, The Baltimore Sun

Joppatowne guard Zameria Jones signed her first autograph when she was 10.

Even then, the natural instincts and athleticism that today allow her to hit circus shots and come from nowhere to make big defensive plays were obvious. With added skills, game smarts and experience, the senior does those things every night for the No. 3 Mariners (24-1), who are headed to UMBC to defend their Class 1A state title starting with Friday's 7 p.m. semifinal vs. No. 9 Dunbar.

"I started going to the Boys and Girls Club when I was 7, and I used to play every day," Jones said with a laugh. "It was fun, and I caught on easily. When I started playing on a team, people asked me for my autograph."

When she arrived at Joppatowne, her moves left opposing coaches shaking their heads in disbelief. Now they expect the unusual.

"She hits incredibly challenging shots," South River coach Mike Zivic said. "On one [at Fallston's holiday tournament], she was behind the backboard and it went in. With most kids you'd say: 'It's a fluke. She just threw it up.' With her, you could tell it was supposed to go in."

The 5-foot-4 Jones combines confidence and fearlessness with a soaring vertical leap that sends her into battle with much taller players — a battle she often wins. Mariners coach Michael Harris saw all of that before she played a single varsity game.

"When she was a freshman," Harris said, "we had our first scrimmage against South River and I was yelling for Zameria to 'stop, stop, stop.' as she was going one-on-three to the hole against all these trees and sure enough, she came away with a layup. I said: 'OK. We've got something here.'"

When Jones steps on the court Friday night, it will be her 100th game as a Mariner. She's played every game since her freshman year and led the Mariners in scoring almost the entire way with 1,641 career points. This season, she is averaging 15.2 points, 3.7 steals and 2.9 assists.

Her scoring has fallen from a high of 18.6 per game as a sophomore, but her game has become more well-rounded as she realized that with her talented teammate, she didn't have to do it all. As a junior, she doubled her assists and steals and is on a similar pace this winter.

While her game is flashy, her personality is exactly the opposite, quiet and unassuming. She has fun, but come game time, she's all business and no hype.

Aberdeen coach Stacy Liles is as impressed with Jones' demeanor as she is with her game.

"She doesn't give it to the refs. She doesn't feed into attitude. She just comes out and she plays basketball," Liles said. "To me that's a great leader, because you lead by example and she's definitely an example for that team, our team and any team in our county [Harford]."

Although she's a quiet leader — Harris said she would prefer to be a "secret captain" — Jones gets her point across when she has to. She's driven to win another state title, and she knows her teammates follow her lead.

"She's a mellow player," Mariners point guard Quay Malloy said, "but she understands it when we're in the heat of the game and we're yelling at each other. She'll say whatever she has to as far as calming us down and telling us what we need to do to win the game."

She can focus her teammates with a few words, but more often she does it with a big play.

In last year's state final against Smithsburg, Jones scored 18 points but she also made a momentum-busting defensive play after the Leopards had cut the Mariners' 20-point lead in half during the fourth quarter. As one of the Leopards drove for what looked like an open layup, Jones came from nowhere to block the shot. The Mariners then took off on a 15-0 run that clinched the title, 63-46.

"If you look at both of those games [at last year's state tournament], in the transition, the big play, the turning was done by Zameria. She's just not afraid of the big moment. She's not afraid to compete," Harris said of his second-team All-Metro guard.

While everyone else is wondering, "How did she do that?" Jones has moved on to the next play. She doesn't realize she's done anything out of the ordinary.

"When I watch tape of myself, I'm shocked," Jones said. "When I'm out there, I don't notice what I'm doing. I just go. When I see it, I'm like, 'It was like that?' I didn't know. It just seems normal when I do it."

Jones honed her skills at the Boys and Girls Club and then on the Edgewood Rams Amateur Athletic Union team, but she stopped playing AAU two years ago — something unheard of among the area's top players. She said when the longtime Rams coach left, she couldn't find a comfortable fit on another team, so she decided to work on her own.

Harris said choosing not to play AAU hasn't hurt her game but that it has impeded her recruiting process because college coaches don't look much at high school games. They find nearly all of their recruits on the AAU circuit.

Still, Jones, who likes to write and is interested in journalism, has drawn attention and is looking at some Division I, Division II and good community college programs. She's convinced she will find a good fit even without AAU.

"If you're good, you'll get someone to notice," she said. "Right now I'm focusing on South Carolina State. I know they're interested. They're a small Division I school that's far away. That's what I want. I want new experiences. I want to see what else is out there."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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