The COVID-19 pandemic is keeping the Connecticut Sun’s All-Star center Jonquel Jones in the Bahamas this summer.
Jones, who helped lead the Sun to their first WNBA finals appearance since 2005 last season, said on Monday that she will sit out the pandemic-shortened 2020 WNBA season.
“This was one of the toughest decisions I’ve made but the resurgence and unknown aspects of COVID -19 have raised serious health concerns that I do not feel comfortable competing in,” Jones said.
Last week, the WNBA announced plans for each team to play a 22-game season with all 12 WNBA teams be housed at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. It will serve as a single site for training camp, games and housing.
The league cut 12 games off their normal 34-game schedule. The top eight teams will make the playoffs, which will be the same format as in previous seasons – single-elimination games for the first and second rounds and best-of-five series for the semifinals and championship rounds.
Jones, 26, is the biggest name player to announce that she is sitting out but she is not the only player taking a pass on this season. Atlanta Dream guard Renee Montgomery announced last week she would not play to focus on social issues.
Later Monday, Washington guard Natasha Cloud announced she would sit out the season. “I will instead continue the fight for social reform because until Black lives matter, all lives can’t matter,” she said. “I have a responsibility to myself, to my community and to my future children to fight for something that is much bigger than myself and the game of basketball.”
Cloud’s teammate LaTota Sanders also said she is not playing. “I do believe it is what’s best for my health and family,” Sanders said.
Cloud and Sanders helped Washington win their first WNBA title last October over Connecticut with a victory in game five of the WNBA championship series.
In February, Connecticut signed Jones to a multi-year contract. She averaged 17.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks a game
“She has proven to be one of the most dominant and versatile players in the world,” Sun coach Curt Miller said when Jones signed her deal. “She continues to be one of the elite rebounders in the game and took a huge step on the defensive side of the ball in 2019. She is just scratching the surface (of her potential).”
She became the first player in WNBA history to score more than 30 points and pull down 15 rebounds in game two of the WNBA finals with a career-high 32 points and 17 rebounds in a 99-87 win over the Mystics.
Jones, a 6-foot-6 center/forward, led the league in total rebounds (330) and blocks (68) in 2019 and was named to the WNBA’s All-Defensive team. She averaged 9.7 rebounds in the regular season and upped that to 10.4 rebounds in the playoffs.
Coronavirus infections on the rise in Florida and the state reported their highest single day increase of the pandemic over the weekend with just under 4,000 cases according to Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, which tracks COVID-19 cases across the nation. In the past two weeks, the average rate of positive test results has risen from 5 percent to 9.7 percent, according to Politico.
Miller said that the Sun supported Jones’s decision. “We recognize the amount of unique challenges, sacrifices, and unknowns this season presents,” he said. “From the top down, there is an unwavering commitment to support each player’s respective decision. We look forward to having JJ back leading us next summer.”
Jones’ departure does leave a gap in the lineup for the Sun, who were expected to contend for the league championship with the addition of three-time WNBA All-Star DeWanna Bonner from Phoenix, All-Star guard Briann January from Phoenix and three-point shooting specialist Kaleena Mosqueda Lewis, the former UConn All-American who began her WNBA career in Seattle.
Veteran forward Alyssa Thomas and guard Jasmine Thomas will return for the Sun, who were 23-11 last year and won more than 20 games for the third straight season. At least, they are expected to return. Players have until Thursday to opt out of the 2020 season.