Naperville Central’s Trinity Jones felt the typical freshman jitters before her first high school game.
She wasn’t playing for the freshman team, after all. Not this kid.
“I was definitely nervous coming to Central, especially playing on varsity,” Jones said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know if the girls are going to like me. I don’t know if they’re going to accept me.’
“But they made me feel really welcome, and they made me feel as if I was a part of their family. So once you get that clicking, you’re good and you’re going.”
Jones is good and definitely going places. The 6-foot-1 guard scored 18 points in her debut, a 53-45 loss to Glenbard West on Nov. 15.
Jones followed that by leading all players with 19 points, nine rebounds, three steals and two blocks as the Redhawks rolled past Homewood-Flossmoor 56-41 on the opening night of the Naperville Central Tip-Off Tournament on Friday.
The performance impressed her teammates, opponents and the crowd, which included WNBA star Candace Parker’s mother, Sara, whose presence was apropos. Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum calls Jones the second-best player, behind Parker, he has coached in his 34-year career.
“She’s a really special talent,” Nussbaum said. “For the most part, her teammates are like, ‘Wow, she really makes us better,’ to state the obvious.
“So it’s been good. We’re real happy she’s here.”
Jones already has offers from several Division I programs, including Maryland, Marquette and Mississippi. She has heard all about the comparisons to Parker.
“I get ‘Oh, she’s the next Candace Parker’ all the time,” Jones said. “But I really want to make a name for myself, and that’s all that matters.”
Jones already is doing that. Her reputation preceded her to Naperville Central.
“I was very excited to find out she was coming,” senior guard Ella Burke said. “To have such an agile player like Trinity is vital to our starting five.”
Burke, a co-captain, played a vital early role in helping Jones adjust.
“She was a little nervous for her first game,” Burke said. “But I understood it because I was nervous for my first game, even though I was not in the same place as her.
“I talked to her and just basically told her she’s really good and everyone trusts her, that she’s got this.”
Jones already has a lot of raw skills. She can shoot, run the floor, play defense and is comfortable at multiple positions, although she has her favorite.
“Guard is best,” Jones said. “But sometimes if I have to play the post, I’ll get down there and do what I have to do to take the ‘W’ for my team.”
Jones may have to play inside at times because the Redhawks (1-2) don’t have much height. But she presents a matchup problem for opponents, as does the team’s athleticism. Burke (Cincinnati) and senior guard Megan Norkett (Northwestern) are Division I soccer recruits, and sophomore guard Callie Tumilty, who scored 18 points on Friday, likely will be too.
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While Jones will inevitably have some growing pains and inconsistency, she’s determined to enjoy every minute.
“I love the sport of basketball,” she said. “If you love a sport so much, you’re going to get after it and play really well. I guess my work is paying off. I’ve just got to keep going.”
Homewood-Flossmoor coach Tony Smith has mentored some of the best players to come out of the Chicago area and said Jones compares favorably.
“We’ve been blessed to have great players like the Morgan Tucks, the Candace Parkers, the Lindsay Wisdoms and Ariel Massengales to come from this area,” Smith said. “Trinity is going to be one of those. She’s going to be special. You saw that she can shoot it already with a high IQ.”
Smith coached Tuck and Massengale. He’ll have to coach against Jones.
“She’s up next,” Smith said. “I hope Nussbaum enjoys this.”
Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.