UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Jonquel Jones had experienced a certain level of anonymity off the basketball court, only occasionally recognized outside the Mohegan Sun arena as one of the best players in the WNBA.
That's all changing.
Thanks in part to an MVP season and a popular insurance commercial, the 6-foot-6 forward from the Bahamas is being introduced to a much wider audience.
“I'm happy to be a face of the league," Jones said. “It comes with the territory. It comes with the hard work and everything that I've put in.”
Jones was not a big name in college at George Washington, but she has been traveling the road to stardom since she was selected in the first round of the 2016 draft. She has gone from role player, to the WNBA's most improved player in 2017 to the league's sixth player of the year in 2018, to the anchor of a title-contending team.
“You just could always see it in her from her rookie year," Sun guard Jasmine Thomas said. “I still feel like she still hasn’t even tapped into all of her greatness and her potential. I’m just super proud of her and happy to see how she handles it all with so much grace.”
She enters Saturday's season opener at New York as the reigning MVP, coming off a season in which she averaged 19.4 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists.
The versatile Jones has 3-point range, can post up inside and shut down her opponent on defense.
“She truly is a workaholic when it comes to adding tools to her tool bag,” said Curt Miller, the Sun's coach and general manager. “Every single year since being in the WNBA, she’s come back and added something.”
While she's widely respected by players and coaches, she hasn't been a marquee name. Jones and others noted on Twitter in December that months after being named MVP, her jersey wasn't even for sale in the WNBA's online store.
She put herself in the spotlight in 2019, helping raise money for relief efforts when Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Bahamas.
And now she is getting noticed for a State Farm Insurance commercial, during which she helps Atlanta Hawks All-Star guard Trae Young get some pickles off a high shelf at a food warehouse store, only to need help herself from 7-4 Dallas Mavericks center Boban Marjanović to get a jar of mustard.
Jones got the call to make the ad while Connecticut was in the stretch run last season. With permission from the team, she flew to Los Angeles at 3 a.m. after a home game, shot the commercial and then took a red-eye flight back across the country.
Patty Morris, the company's assistant vice president of brand and acquisition, said the idea of both ads is to appeal to both male and female basketball fans and show the respect the players in both leagues have for each other.
“We're happy to bring WNBA players into that because it does represent the broader landscape of basketball,” she said. “You see them really support each other and encourage each other, so it makes it really easy as a sponsor to put them together in compelling stories that I think the fans really love.”
Jones acknowledged she's gotten some teasing over the commercial, especially if she's reaching for something on a shelf, but she's happy with the recognition.
“I believe this is just the start and that JJ is very, very marketable," Miller said.
But as her visibility increases, Jones said she also wants people, especially girls, to realize how much work it has taken to get where she is.
“I want to make sure they understand that is part of it too," Jones said, “and not just give them sunshine and rainbows all the time."
Hard work is certainly paying off for Jones.
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