Before Tiffany Jones became Seton Hall’s second-leading scorer and the Big East Player of the Week, she was just a kid from New York trying to make a name for herself.
After growing up with 13 older siblings and no father in Manhattan, the baby of the bunch rose to prominence at Nazareth High School in Brooklyn. In 2011, she took the Lady Kingsmen to their first ever Class AA state title.
Robert “Apache” Paschall coached Jones throughout her entire life, including her time at Nazareth. With her dad not around, the prominent AAU coach served as a father figure.
“Right away, he saw that I was a good kid and always believed in me,” Jones said.
Early in high school, Jones got involved with the “wrong crowds” and “got into trouble.” When asked what kind of trouble, she just smiled.
Her siblings were always on the go, but like Paschall, they always kept an eye on their little sister.
“We always gotta watch out for Tiff,” Jones remember them say- ing. “No matter what.”
The versatile 6-foot-3-inch Jones committed to Syracuse, but her grades weren’t up to NCAA standards, so she found herself at Tallahassee Community College in Florida.
Then Paschall died.
The 38-year-old coach lost a battle with skin cancer. Jones was devastated.
After a season at TCC, Jones transferred to a two-year junior college called ASA in Brooklyn, which was coached by Thomas Davis, one of Paschall’s cousins who was his assistant since 2005. Davis met Jones when she was 12 years old.
She said she was still torn up over losing Paschall when tragedy struck again.
This time, it was her mother. “Mom always wanted more for us than she had, and my dad wasn’t around,” Jones said. “When she was gone, that was really tough to deal with.”
On Jones’ right forearm, just under the elbow, she has a tattoo of her mother’s face. Below that is a circle of rosary beads with a single word in the middle – “Apache.”
When asked if she’s religious, Jones said no and looked away. She then rubbed her arm, right where the tattoos are. She said they are reminders for her.
“I honestly didn’t know how she would respond,” Davis said of Jones’ mother passing. “I tried my hardest to keep her mind right, to keep her focused. But she was hurt. She took two days off, missed a trip we had, and then when she came back, she just went on a tear.”
After a season at ASA, Davis helped Jones get her shot at Seton Hall.
“I reached out to [women’s head coach Tony Bozzella] when he got the job. He seemed like a good dude. I wanted to make sure he was someone who would take care of her. She’s an important part of my life, so I had to make sure it was the right situation.”
Bozzella was all for it.
“We saw her in high school, and she was very raw,” Bozzella said. “Very raw. But Tiff is a shell of what she’s going to be. She’s constantly getting better, constantly growing.”
Jones missed the first 11 games of 2014-15 due to academic issues. When she finally did hit the court, the impact was noticeable. She averaged seven points and 5.8 boards off the bench while constantly providing matchup problems for opponents. Jones is too big for quicker defenders and too skilled for the larger ones.
In the team’s most important game of the year—a first-round NCAA Tournament clash with Rutgers – Jones finished with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and seven rebounds.
Bozzella has grown to appreciate Jones’ versatility on both ends of the floor, but also what she brings to the team off the court.
“The other day we were about to start a drill, and Tiff goes over and hugs one of the freshman (Martha Kuderer),” Bozzella said earlier in the month. “And she is from Minnesota. Tiffany is from New York. That’s just Tiff. She makes everyone feel comfortable here.”
While Jones is helping the underclassmen adjust to college bas- ketball, it was Bozzella who initially welcomed her to SHU.
“He’s a family man,” Jones said. “He knew my story and every- thing I went through, but didn’t judge at all. He welcomed me into the family.”
For Bozzella, the definition of a player’s coach, that’s just par for the course.
“It’s important for us to care about each other. Tiff gets that. She’s very family-oriented. When you come from a big home like that, you’re full of love.”
Jones looks forward to getting to work on her major (criminal justice) after graduating, and also mentioned the possibility of playing overseas.
“Tiffany always talked about playing basketball professionally and making a living for her and her family,” Nazareth Assistant Principal Nancy Roberts said. “This was always her motivation, her driving force.”
With the rest of the season still on her plate, the senior is not rushing though.
“That’s a long ways off,” Jones said. “For now, I’m just focused on playing here.”
Tom Duffy can be reached at Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TJDHoops.