Jones looks to recover from early season rut

It’s a natural fact of sports. Athletes go through slumps. Unfortunately for the Lady Rattlers, nature is taking its toll on last year’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Deidra Jones.

“It’s tough because she’s not really playing well right now,” said Lady Rattler head coach Debra Clark.

After an impressive rookie season where Jones took home the 2006 MEAC Rookie of the Year award and put up a MEAC rookie- leading 13.4 points per game, coaches and teammates were looking for Jones to pick up where she left off.

However, Jones hasn’t quite risen to the heights that she and her coaches expected. In the team’s first 15 games, Jones has averaged 9.5 points per game, which is down from last year’s total. The 5-foot-10-inch guard has also struggled from the field, shooting a paltry 34 percent from the field and a team low 10.5 percent from behind the arc.

“Offensively, I think she is trying to force things because she hasn’t been scoring, and she is used to scoring,” Clark said. “Lately, she hasn’t been getting good looks, and she has turned the ball over a little bit.”

As a rookie, Jones was able to surprise the league with her talent, but this year opposing defenses have keyed in on stopping No.2 of the Lady Rattlers.

“She is an all-conference player, and our other teams know that,” Clark said. “They are giving her a lot more attention this year, so she has to respond to that.”

While teams have honed in on the guard from Powder Springs, Ga., other guards in the Lady Rattler backcourt have stepped up this season.

Junior guard Q’Vaunda Curry has supplanted Jones as the team’s leading scorer with 11.4 points a game.

“There are nights when Deidra will be off, and I’m on,” Curry said. “Joslyne (Jackson) might be on, and I’m off. We might be on at the same time, but we all try and step in and pick up the slack.”

According to Jones, she really doesn’t mind sharing the load.

“My teammates have been a tremendous help,” she said. It’s been a rough season for me, and they have all been there for me.”

Freshman guard Marke Freeman has also been a major cog in the Lady Rattlers backcourt. Freeman’s contributions, which include a team best 40.6 percent three-point percentage and 85.7 percent free throw accuracy, have come primarily off the bench.

“Last year if she doesn’t play well, we don’t do well,” Clark said of the team’s reliance on Jones last season. “But now, we have a little bit more of a balanced scoring attack, and we are a little more mature. And our freshman are really stepping up.”

Despite Jones’ slow start, Curry said she still expects to see the backcourt mate that wowed the conference just one year ago.

“There are certain players who you know are going to be leaders on the court, and we know she’ll bounce back so we aren’t really worried,” Curry said. “She will come out of it.”

Even with Jones’ game in a rut, Clark said the problem can be fixed.

“I think once she settles down and lets the game come to her, she will be fine,” Clark said. “This is part of athletics. People have a down time. It’s just a matter of not letting it get too deep. It’s one of those things that is going to have to start with her intensity and her work ethic. Everything will fall into place at that point.”

Until that point comes, Jones will be working hard to return to last year’s form.

“I just have to keep working,” Jones said. “Put some more hours in at the gym and stay positive.”

Curry said Jones’ resilient attitude will help Jones get to where she was last year.

“Deidra, being the type of player that she is, she is going to be hungry,” Curry said. “She’s not going to just sit there in her slump. She was rookie of the year last year, and I’m looking for her to be the same impact player she was last year. She is going to bounce back.”