By Carl Adamec
MOHEGAN INDIAN RES. — Asjha Jones loves her Olympic gold medal so much she’d wear it 24/7 if she could.
And the 32-year-old Connecticut Sun and former UConn star admits she wouldn’t mind adding to her collection.
“Am I coming back? If I’m playing in four years ... Yeah,” Jones said with a smile Tuesday as she and teammate Tina Charles met the media a day after returning from London.
Whether age, injuries, the wear and tear from playing basketball for most of her life, or talented younger players catch up to her before the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero is unknown. But the Piscataway, N.J. native has a gold medal, clinched when the United States routed France 86-50 Sunday, and no one can take it away from her.
“It was fun. It’s the ultimate goal achieved,” Jones said. “People have lots of goals and lots of dreams and they don’t always get to reach them. And, for me, I was able to do that.
“I’m just really proud of what we were able to do and the way we did it, I think we won with class and style. We all played together and I think we all can be proud of that.”
Team USA won gold for the fifth straight Olympics and pushed its winning streak to 41 games. Coached by UConn’s Geno Auriemma, the roster featured six former UConn standouts — Jones, Charles, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Swin Cash, and Maya Moore.
The gold medal was the third for Bird and Taurasi, the second for Cash, and the first for Moore, Charles, and Jones.
Moore became the seventh player — joining Bird, Cash, Taurasi, Kara Wolters, Sheryl Swoopes, and Cynthia Cooper — to win a NCAA title, a WNBA title, and world championship and Olympic gold medals. Jones and Charles would join that group if the Sun goes on to win a championship this fall.
Connecticut (15-4) returns to action from the Olympic break Thursday when it visits the New York Liberty. “I was just proud to be there.” Jones said. “And to see D, Sue and Swin ... Those guys have been through it before and it doesn’t get old for them. It was my first time and it kind of sunk in like. ‘This is like a dream come true for most athletes in the world.’
“I think I did my part. My role was, if I got in, was pretty much play defense. They didn’t need me to score points. We have plenty of people who could do that. So if I got in the game I knew my job would be to like even things out, keep us calm, keep the tempo even on offense and defense, and have an impact.”
Jones, who was the final player selected to the team after Baylor All-American Brittney Griner pulled her name out of consideration, averaged 3.1 points and 1.7 rebounds in 10.3 minutes per game. She played a key role on the defensive end in Team USA’s second-half surge that erased a three-point deficit en route to a semifinal win over Australia.
“I had an open mind going in,” Jones said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. There was a lot of UConn people there. I don’t know if any other Olympics is like that. There was a lot of UConn going on there so it was kind of like a blast from the past.”
Jones was joined in London by her father, Otis Forney. “It was great having my dad there,” Jones said. “He carted me around from age 10 up and down Jersey, up and down the Turnpike, all over the country just trying to make me the best player I could be. So I felt more honored for people who put time into me than for myself and for people to be able to say, ‘Wow, look how far you’ve come.’
“The same could be said for Charles. Four years ago she was about to enter her junior season at UConn and was dealing with a crisis in confidence.
After the Huskies lost to Stanford in the 2008 Final Four semifinals, Auriemma said his team didn’t have a post game. UConn didn’t lose a game the rest of her college career and the 6-foot-4 center won most 2010 Player of the Year awards. Now she has Olympic gold.
“Looking back, I’m sure a lot of people didn’t think I would be in this position,” Charles said. “But I am. So I’m just blessed and really fortunate for it.”
Charles, 23, figures to be a cornerstone of at least one more Olympic team.
After Sunday’s win, Taurasi said she and Bird would be back in 2016.
Jones takes them at their word.
“We’ll see in four years. It’s a long time,” Jones said of her teammates on UConn’s 2002 national championship team. “But they’re staples of the team. They’re captains. The new group needs leadership. I was just a new guy. We’ll see.”
Blame it on Rio.