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Lisa Bluder: ‘There’s no way we’re going to give up’ on Ava Jones
Iowa women’s basketball coach talks publicly for the first time about her recruit from Kansas, who signed a letter of intent Wednesday
IOWA CITY — Seriously, what else would you expect?
Wednesday marked National Signing Day for NCAA women’s basketball, among other sports. And with that, it marked the first day that Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder could speak publicly about Ava Jones.
“There’s no way we’re going to give up on a kid who supported us, who believed in us,” Bluder said during Wednesday’s news conference, a few hours before the Hawkeyes received the paperwork from Jones and Kennise Johnson-Etienne, their other 2023 signee.
“It’s not just about basketball. It’s about integrity.”
A 6-foot-2 senior forward out of Nickerson (Kan.) High School, Jones committed to Iowa on July 3.
Two days later, while at an AAU tournament in Louisville, Ky., she was seriously injured while standing on a sidewalk. She and other members of her family were hit by a substance-impaired driver.
Ava and her mother, Amy, were hospitalized for weeks. Ava’s father, Trey, did not survive.
Jones still has multiple surgeries ahead on both knees. She won’t play this season at Nickerson, and Bluder indicated that she won’t play at Iowa in 2023-24.
Beyond that, nobody knows. Wednesday morning, before the news conference, Bluder released the following statement:
“We're signing (Jones) because we believe in her and she believes in us. She is a remarkable athlete with great versatility. She is working hard to return to the athlete she was. When she takes the floor for Iowa, it will be a special moment for all of us.”
“When” she takes the floor, Bluder said. Not “if.”
Before the July incident, Jones was ranked No. 84 in ESPN’s player rankings. She averaged 20.8 points and 15.4 points per game in her junior season.
Bluder was asked whether most college coaches would honor a scholarship offer in circumstances such as this.
“I hope the majority would do the same,” she said. “I believe in the profession enough to think a lot would do it.”
For a coach that speaks frequently on words such as “culture” and “chemistry,” you knew Bluder wouldn’t blink.
Fourth-ranked Iowa (1-0) hosts Evansville (1-0) at 6:30 Thursday night.
It’s probably too early to note this, but why not; the Hawkeyes — who unapologetically carry an offense-first attitude, rank in the top 20 nationally in three categories you’d never expect.
They are No. 5 in rebound margin (plus-29.0), No. 10 in field-goal defense (.211) and No. 18 in defensive average (34.0 points per game).
Bluder noted it, too.
“We took a picture of it for memories’ sake,” she said. “It was a shock.”
Kate Martin, who wore a mask in Iowa’s season-opening win Monday, said she was the victim of “an elbow (to the nose) from one of the Gray squad guys” last week.
It was the second time in her career she has suffered a broken nose.
“I guess I’m just prone to getting hit in the face,” she said. “The first couple of practices back, I was a little nervous.”
Evansville won its opener, 89-81, Monday at Eastern Kentucky. Miya Clark was 8-of-9 from 3-point range and scored 25 points.