January 23, 2004
I I have had the privilege to follow Chandi Jones' college career at my alma mater, the University of Houston, since her freshman year. Chandi's list of accomplishments could take an hour or more to read. However, this season Chandi and the Lady Cougars are enjoying great team success and receiving national attention. UH is ranked in both major Top 25 polls for the first time in Chandi's career. While Chandi is clearly focused on her senior year of college, she is looking toward her pro career and playing in the WNBA. Chandi is expected to be a top 10 pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft; so, though she has already accomplished a lot in her young life, Chandi Jones' career will open a new chapter in her life when she joins the WNBA.
"I'd love to stay home and play for the Comets," Chandi told me. "But, I wouldn't mind playing in New York; San Antonio; even Indiana. My first cousin lives in Indianapolis; so, at the least, I'd have some family there. I wouldn't mind going there. ... Seattle is okay; it wouldn't be that bad, I guess. But, if I had to pick and choose; and, I couldn't play in Houston; I'd like to be in the Western Conference just because I know that I'll have some games in Texas so my family members can come watch me play. Well, I know if it's Eastern Conference team they'll come watch me, too."
Chandi is an only child; but, she insists she is not spoiled.
"I'm just loved a lot. I'm not spoiled. I don't get my way on everything."
Playing in the WNBA has been a dream of Chandi's for a long time.
"When I was 8 or 9, I used to ask my dad if there was a pro league for women because there wasn't one in America; so, I grew up watching the NBA. My dad told me the women had to go overseas and play. So, in my mind, I always had the thought that I'd have to go overseas and play pro ball and not be able to play in the United States and in front of my family."
Ironically, while growing up, Chandi's favorite player was not a female basketball player. Michael Jordan was her favorite player.
"I was in love with him. I had posters of him everywhere. I even had the life-size poster in my room. I just adored him. I knew every time his games were coming on tv; and, I always taped his championship finals. I watched game tapes of him over and over again to try to learn different things I could work to help me with my game. Some of things that he's done, I just tried to put into my game and do the best I could do with it with what I thought I saw."
Growing up in Bay City, Texas, Chandi started playing basketball at the age of 3. Her father, David, was a basketball coach; so, Chandi learned a lot about the game from him. Since David coached boys' teams, Chandi spent a lot of her time playing basketball against the guys.
"Since we didn't have a girls' league, we had to play with the guys," Chandi adds. So, I've always been a star when playing on a girls' team. It just escalated once I got to junior high. I was so much more advanced than my classmates because I had played with the guys. Plus, all the hard work I put into playing basketball."
One of Chandi's greatest strengths is her incredible leaping ability. She participated in the long jump and the triple jump for the Bay City High School track team throughout high school. She excelled in both sports.
"I won 8 state gold medals."
Two gold medals per event.
Track helped Chandi a great deal because it helped her learn to depend on herself and get herself mentally ready as far as competing and knowing how to win.
"You have to had the determination to want to win. It also kept me in shape because, in the summertime, I played AAU basketball."
While Chandi has enjoyed a tremendously successful career, she did experience a setback her freshman season. She tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee on January 20, 2001.
"I never thought that I was going to see the light again, honestly. After I came out of surgery, the pain of it hit; but, it was really tough. I never had a serious injury like that before; and, it really did work on me mentally. Not as far as me doubting myself whether I would play again; it was the doubt 'Is my knee going to heal like the way that it should and allow me to better my career and allow me to be the same Chandi that everybody knew?' I didn't want to go on the court and be a half step slower and things like that.
"The rehabbing was such a slow process because I was only allowed to do so much after the surgery. It was tough not being able to get up and just walk around. I had to be on crutches it seemed like forever. My parents stood by me the entire time; and they really encouraged me and told me everything would be okay. Whenever I saw the pain in my parents' eyes as far as them wanting me to be okay, I would try to give them words of encouragement and I'd tell them I was working hard to get back to where I was before the injury, if not even better; and to tell them to not worry about me because I was going to be okay."
Amazingly, Chandi returned to action in the fall of 2001. She helped lead the Lady Cougars to the championship game of the Women's NIT that season.
"I think I'm a little bit stronger. I believe most of it's a mind thing. I feel like my old self again. My knee is a lot stronger than my sophomore year coming back from the injury. I had some bumps and bruises because I hadn't played in four months; and, the knee would get sore at times. Sometimes, I just felt like not playing; but, I just worked through it and just kept working on my leg strength in the weight room. I feel a lot better."
Chandi loves the University of Houston; but, she does have a problem with the marketing of the Lady Cougars' basketball team.
"In my opinion, the marketing of our program hasn't really been what I really expected," Chandi said very matter-of-factly. "It's kind of mind boggling to me that the coaches have to, basically, go into the community and do most of the marketing in order to get people come to Hofheinz Pavilion to watch us play. Yes, it's good for the coaches to be in the community and interacting with people; and, I'm not saying that's not part of their job; but, for them to do it the majority of the time, well all of the time really, I just don't believe it's fair to the coaches because they have other responsibilities as far as being a coach. I believe it's the marketing department's job to promote the program. That's what UH is paying them to do. Not only promote our program; but, other sports as well. It's just funny to me, in my years at UH, I've never really seen the team being marketed."
Chandi also doesn't believe Houston is a basketball city.
"I think that this city is basically built on men's sports, and football of course. We're in the state of Texas and football is a big deal here."
A large, vocal home crowd is important to Miss Jones, too.
"That's a major plus for me. I always thought that once I went to college that I would be playing in front of thousands of people because I grew up watching the University of Texas and Tennessee and all the national powerhouses and; sitting at home, I was always amazed at so many fans in the buildings to watch women play. That really excited me; and I've always dreamed of doing that. I came to UH; and, our crowds have been okay. Not what I really expected as far as going to college because, even though I came from a 4A school which is a smaller school, I'm used to playing in front of large crowds. The town that I was in, Bay City, we had a great crowd all of the time. Sometimes it was standing-room only; so, I've been kind of disappointed as far as the crowds; but, I've always tried to give my all on the basketball court playing for the University of Houston."
Chandi definitely believes women's basketball has improved in the few years since her high school days.
"Overall, I think women's basketball has improved tremendously. Each year women have raised the level of play. For instance, when the WNBA started, I was in high school. The league had to use a lot of the older players who had played overseas to establish the league because the fans had seen them and known about them from college. I think that helped the WNBA a lot; but, now, our day and time, with my class coming out and how deep it is, there are so many great players in this class that are being publicized nationally and locally where they're playing. Hopefully, we're going to raise the level of play in the WNBA as a whole. I think we're going to bring more fans to the game; and make the WNBA more profitable and raise the salaries. I think we'll start making more money for the league."
Chandi and the Houston Lady Cougars have enjoyed some success thus far this season; but, Chandi says she and her teammates are not satisfied.
"What's left is to win the Conference. Win the regular season; then, go to the conference tournament and win that. Going to the Big Dance, too, which I've never done."
In Houston's upset win (61-59) at Texas Christian, Chandi put on a show for the national television audience. She scored 32 points including the go ahead basket with seconds remaining. When the final buzzer sounded, Chandi was extremely excited. She jumped up and down all over the court because the win was a huge step for her, her teammates, and the University of Houston's women's basketball program.
"The whole week prior to playing TCU," Chandi responded. "I knew we really needed to show how well we could play because we had just made the Coaches' Poll at 25. TCU was ranked in both polls; and, we wanted to make both polls. We were just so excited about making the coaches' poll; and, we got together and agreed being ranked at 25 was just a start. We want to keep moving up and up. We knew coming into TCU's gym it was going to be a battle and it was going to be tough. We knew we needed to get the win in order for us to get the recognition and be voted into the AP poll.
"I just tried to do my best (in the game) and do whatever I could to make it work."
Before her career at the University of Houston is finished, Chandi has one simple wish.
"I would like to play in front of a larger crowd than I've been facing before my college career is over."
Houston's unknown star has spoken. Hopefully, her wish can come true.