Newcomer Nekia Jones builds a family in her first year as a Longhorn

Rachel Wenzlaff

The women’s basketball team may have found an instrumental piece of the winning puzzle in freshman Nekia Jones. Jones’ size and experience in the post could be the vital factor Texas needs to come back from a disappointing 2012-2013 season, in which it finished second from the bottom in the Big 12.

Although Jones says anything she can do to win is all she wants to do, she remembers that there’s more to the team than simply where you finish.

“It’s just a game, you know?” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t just see a ball, a court and a scoreboard; She sees opportunities for personal growth and for fostering relationships.

Jones grew up in a single-parent household. Her mom, Deneka Roberts, worked two, sometimes three jobs, to support Jones and her sisters — Ciceley, 15, and Courtnee, 13. But every time Jones stepped foot on the court, Roberts found a way to be there. 

“In high school, my mom never missed a game,” Jones said. “She would run from her jobs to come to my game and watch me play no matter where we were at. She was always there in the stands, smiling with my two sisters right behind her.”

But advancing her basketball career to play for Texas meant being apart from the most important thing in her life — family. The four-hour drive from her hometown of Beaumont to Austin, means her mom and sisters can’t make it to every game to watch her from the stands.

“It’s hard being away from my family,” Jones said.

Although she is away from her family physically, they’re always on her mind.

“My grandmother motivates me to do better,” Jones said. “She’s a survivor of breast cancer. It just hits me every day. Like she fought through that, I can fight through anything, too.”

With that mentality, Jones fought through isolation by becoming part of a new family — her team.

Not only did the basketball team become her family, but so did the fans. If you’ve ever cheered on the Longhorns at a game, Jones considers you a part of her Texas family.

“I love when the fans don’t sit down until the team scores a point,” Jones said. “You have your horns up. It makes me feel like I’m at home with my own family.” 

But her familiarity off the court doesn’t mean she’s 100 percent familiar with her teammates’ styles on it. She knows there’s always room for improvement.

“I just go into thinking about what I have to do to get better,” Jones said. “Every day, I know that there’s challenges I’m going to have to face, so I’m going to have to focus on getting better or working harder, trying to make not just myself better, but the people around me better.”

Jones, who will miss the team’s season-opener with a right-foot injury, will cheer on her family for their first game against UTSA on Sunday at 2 p.m.