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As Naperville Central’s Trinity Jones eclipses 500 points, does the freshman phenom outdo herself? – Chicago Tribune

Naperville Central freshman Trinity Jones grabbed the rebound and headed up the court as Neuqua Valley’s players scrambled back on defense.

As Jones raced into the lane, the Wildcats had to answer one question: Would she take the ball to the basket or pull up for a jumper?

It was a trick question. Jones did neither, opting instead to fire a pass underneath to junior forward Adriana Villanova for an easy basket and a four-point lead at the end of the third quarter.

“She’s always able to find a lot of people around the court,” Villanova said. “If she thinks she’s not going to get to the basket, she’s able to find people with passes, like she did with me.

“It’s really amazing playing with her.”

The 6-foot-1 Jones has been amazing all season, but her performance Thursday might have topped them all. She scored a career-high 32 points and had a game-high 15 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots to lead the host Redhawks to a 61-52 DuPage Valley Conference victory.

“Oh, my goodness,” Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said. “This was in some ways her best game of the season. She was unstoppable offensively.”

And to think that offense wasn’t in front of mind for Jones.

“My main focus going into this game was having energy because energy and playing good defense, to me, that really wins games,” Jones said. “Offense will come with it.

“We just play together, and I think that’s what got us the win.”

It’s been a reliably successful formula of late for the Redhawks (17-9, 4-3), who are riding an 11-game winning streak despite playing without injured senior guards Megan Norkett and Ella Burke.

The win over the first-place Wildcats (16-10, 6-1) avenged a 66-61 loss on Dec. 8. The Redhawks also paid back Waubonsie Valley for a 60-56 overtime loss by winning 57-55 on Jan 19.

Naperville Central's Trinity Jones (10) and Callie Tumilty (4) react after Jones scored and drew a foul against Neuqua Valley during a DuPage Valley Conference game in Naperville on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023.

Jones had 29 points and 22 rebounds in the rematch against Waubonsie Valley. She’s putting up big numbers even though teams are scheming to stop her, and she shrugs off the attention.

“I don’t really picture it as all eyes on me,” Jones said. “I picture it as all eyes on us because we’re a team, and there’s no ‘I’ in team.”

While teams draw up game plans to try to Thwart Jones, it’s a tough task. She’s listed as a guard, but she can — and often does — play all five positions. She’s averaging 19.6 points and 11.6 rebounds.

“I’d like to play her everywhere,” Nussbaum said. “There’s a lot of times where great players are better than what you can draw up. So there’s a lot of times where what Trinity does is better than what we can draw up.”

That was particularly true in the fourth quarter Thursday. Jones scored 14 of her team’s 20 points, including a game-tying basket, two game-tying free throws, a putback that gave the Redhawks the lead for good at 49-47 and two additional baskets that bumped the lead to three points.

“She was great tonight,” Nussbaum said. “I think they wanted to take charges, and they just kind of slithered through their defense pretty successfully.”

Indeed, Jones was able to adjust to anything the Wildcats tried, both while bringing the ball up under pressure and trying to attack the basket. How did you do it?

“Just being patient, seeing where they are, watching their feet and watching a lot of film on them really helps too,” Jones said. “Studying, basically.”

Those are good habits, ones that Jones shares with her teammates, including freshman guard Erin Hackett, who contributed 15 points on Thursday.

Naperville Central's Erin Hackett puts up a 3-point shot during a DuPage Valley Conference game against Neuqua Valley in Naperville on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023.

“She definitely leads us, not even just with her points but also with her attitude,” Villanova said of Jones. “She has a lot of advice for everyone as well. She’s able to tell you what you can improve on, and she’ll also take good advice.”

And Jones is just getting started.

“Do you know how much better this kid can get?” Nussbaum said. “She’s over 500 points now on the year.”

Jones has scored 510, in fact — an impressive achievement, but not one she is dwelling on.

“It’s a good accomplishment, but I just don’t really look at that type of stuff,” Jones said. “I just play basketball and try my best.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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