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Lack Of Vision Doesn't Break Jones' Focus

March 29, 2011

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Baylor fans have come to love Melissa Jones during her four years with the women's basketball program for her seemingly unstoppable motor on the floor. Always hustling, she makes plays that contribute to wins even if they don't always show up in the box score. And the player that coach Kim Mulkey calls the heart and soul of the team always seems to be diving for a loose ball, leaping over the scorers table, and trying to outrun an opposing player for possession of the ball. And that's what she was doing last month in Oklahoma, diving for a bouncing ball and colliding with a Sooner, when everything about her final weeks as a player changed. It was a inconspicuous play, and her injury was one that coach Kim Mulkey wouldn't have noticed if she hadn't seen Jones with her hands near her right eye.

But Melissa, better known to many fans as "MJ," wasn't alright. Thinking her eye was swollen, she realized it was still open when she touched it. Meaning the reason that she suddenly couldn't see out of it must not be so simple.

A trip to the emergency room in Norman revealed a good prognosis for recovery. But as Jones returned to Central Texas without vision in her right eye, a trip to Scott & White revealed scary news that extended far beyond the basketball season. It was possible that the freak accident which led to swelling of the optic nerve might mean MJ would never regain vision in that eye.

Melissa experience those emotions while pondering questions about whether her injury would finish her senior season, and threaten her teams title chances that they'd worked so hard to attain. And, of course, there were the larger questions about whether she'd ever see again. But testing would reveal that the most dire fears would thankfully not be realized.

Looking forward is what Melissa did. While she could not play in her final regular season game at the Ferrell Center, she has not missed a postseason game. A tiny bit of vision returned to her right eye earlier this month. That, combined with doctors' assurances that she wasn't putting herself at any more risk by playing had her back out with her teammates at the first opportunity, allowing her to contribute to the Lady Bears Big 12 Tournament win. And she's contributed in the NCAA tournament as well. But it hasn't been easy. Her vision in her right eye is not good, and she closes it behind her protective glasses when she shoots, something she said was easier than it sounds before leaving on the team bus to Dallas.

She scored 13 points against West Virginia in the win that sent the Lady Bears to the Sweet 16, and remains the leader her younger teammates lean on. But that leadership extend beyond the lines. Coach Kim Mulkey said she's even leaned on the emotionally strong senior throughout the ordeal.

Jones said it has been tough, but she doesn't dwell on the negative. Was there ever a moment when she questioned, "why me?" It's a matter of fact approach for Jones to a story that's anything but typical. Everything she's used to doing is now harder. But even as the routine gets harder, she feels the support around her growing stronger.

You might not be able to see Jones close her eye when she shoots tonight against Texas A & M. But you may very well be able to see that cloudy vision has in no way dulled her focus on her goal from the time she got to Baylor: cutting down the nets and bringing another national title home to Waco. To reach that, the Lady Bears will have to get through the Aggies tonight in Dallas at 8 p.m. The winner advances to the Final Four in Indianapolis. For KWBU News, I'm Derek Smith.

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