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By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE– At the University of Virginia, there’s drama major Moné Jones and there’s women’s basketball player Moné Jones.

A fourth-year student from Durham, N.C., Jones has found common threads in those pursuits.

“It’s just like a team,” Jones said of her work in UVA’s drama department. “When you do your role well and other people do their roles well, it’s a well-oiled machine.”

In theatre as in team sports, success hinges in large part on the ability of a group of people to mesh, “because we all win together or we all lose together,” said Caitlin McLeod, an associate drama professor at the University.

Early this semester, Jones was one of the stage managers on the production of The Wolves at UVA’s Ruth Caplin Theatre. This award-winning play, written by Sarah DeLappe, explores female adolescence through the lives of nine members of a high school girls soccer team.

Overseeing the three student stage managers was McLeod, who’s known Jones for more than a year. In the fall of 2017, McLeod said, she taught a class that Jones took in which students “learn all the theoretical elements of managing.” The next step for Jones, this semester, was a lab in which she helped manage nightly rehearsals of a play.

“It was at least 30 hours a week,” McLeod said. “They have to work five hours a night, six nights a week.”

On opening night, Jones recalled, everyone involved with the play was “nervous. We didn’t know how people were going to take it.”

They needed not have worried.

“At the end of the performance, when you get a standing ovation and people really enjoy it, it’s just like all your hard work [is rewarded],” Jones said. “It makes you feel really good. And it’s just like on a basketball floor, when you get the win or you do something that you haven’t done before and you’re really proud of it, just because of the work you put in.”

Athletes are accustomed to performing in pressure situations, McLeod said, “so they step into this theatre management very fluidly, because there’s so much similarity in these endeavors.

“Mo’s done great, and it was just wonderful that it was a show about a team, because there’s not a lot of theatre pieces about sports teams out there in the world. So it was just dumb luck that the one show she could work on was about a sports team. We theatre people may have done some sports, but we tend to be on a different kind of team and not quite so physically disciplined.

“So she was a great addition, because she was able to give [the actors] insight into what it’s like being on a sports team. They went to a soccer game together, and she was able to kind of convey what’s happening before the game for the team, and all that is really important to the actors to understand that world, to be able to embody these people.”

A graduate of Riverside High School in Durham, Jones arrived at UVA in the summer of 2015 as a heralded basketball recruit. But physical setbacks have marred her college career.

“It’s almost as if she could be a second-year or just starting her third year,” Virginia assistant coach La’Keshia Frett Meredith said.

Jones, a 6-3 forward, played most of her freshman season with a knee injury that required surgery in April 2016. “She sacrificed for the team and played through it,” Frett Meredith said.

A long rehabilitation period followed the operation, and Jones missed the first eight games of the 2016-17 season. Once she returned, “I was in and out of the lineup,” Jones said. Then-head coach Joanne Boyle had settled on a rotation, “and I was just trying to get acclimated again to basketball,” Jones said.

After averaging 17.3 minutes per game in 2015-16, Jones averaged only 9.7 as a sophomore. Then, in November 2017, she broke her right foot. Jones ended up playing in only 15 games last season, when she averaged 8.0 minutes and 0.5 points per game.

“Injuries are definitely part of this game, and a lot of times the things that happened to Mo were just bad luck,” Frett Meredith said. “There’s not really anything she could do about it.

“It is what it is. You’ve just got to make the best of it, and I think that’s what she has done.”

In her first three years, Jones started only one game for the Wahoos. Her role has grown this season, Virginia’s first under head coach Tina Thompson.

Jones has started every game for UVA (3-5), which hosts American (4-3) at 7 p.m. Wednesday at John Paul Jones Arena, and she’s averaging 7.3 points and 3.9 rebounds. She’s shooting 52.6 percent from the floor and 82.4 percent from the line, and she’s 4 for 10 from 3-point range.

“This is my first year fully being healthy without sitting out any games,” Jones said, “and that’s new to me. And so I’m just trying to learn how to play basketball again. I know I can play, but I haven’t played it in a while, and I haven’t gotten that experience.”

Jones has struggled at times, but she’s also flashed the skills that made her such a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school. “I think her challenge is to be able to do it more consistently throughout the game,” Frett Meredith said.

Early in the season, Jones started alongside 6-9 junior Felicia Aiyeotan in the frontcourt. But Aiyeotan suffered a knee injury Nov. 20 in Virginia’s fourth game, a win over North Carolina A&T, and is sidelined for several weeks.

Aiyeotan’s absence has tested the Cavaliers. She drew considerable attention from opponents, which in turn gave her teammates “open looks and open drives,” Jones said. “And then on the defensive end, when you funnel everything to someone who is 6-9, it just helps everyone out. But now that Fe is out for a little while, we just have to adjust, and right now we’re in the process of figuring out how that’s going to look.”

Asked to describe her UVA career, Jones said, “It’s been a whirlwind for me, with the injuries and everything. There’s been some times the past couple years where I went months without being on the floor. And so I’m just really grateful for the opportunity to contribute this team, be on the floor, and also be one of the leaders of this team.”

She may not pursue a career in drama, but she’s loved it as a major. “I just thought it was really interesting,” Jones said, “so why not try something that catches your eye, something different?”

Her college experience has encompassed highs and lows. That’s helped her grow as a person and a player.

“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Jone said. “Even with the injuries, I’ve learned a lot, being on the sideline. I learned how to face adversity and overcome it. It hits you again. You overcome something else. It hits you again. You overcome it.

“It’s a constant fight, it’s a constant battle, and you just can’t give up. So that’s one thing that I really learned while being here. And the experience of playing in the ACC, of being around people who really care about women’s basketball, it just brings me so much joy.”