STILLWATER — Often frustrated and overwhelmed, LaShawn Jones said her first two basketball seasons at Oklahoma State left her feeling lost.
She didn’t know plays. She had no sense of court geography. Sometimes, she could barely catch a pass.
Jones averaged only 6.6 minutes per game in her first two years combined, sitting behind post players such as Toni Young and Lindsey Keller.
When she did play, there were glimpses of potential from the All-State pick out of Putnam City High School.
But the mental mistakes that kept coaches constantly trying to teach — yelling if that’s what it took to get the message across — persisted.
It was head-scratching in a way. At 6-foot-3 with ridiculous strength and the nickname “Shaq,” she had the tools to be a force. Putting it all together was the hard part.
“In high school, I could just turn and shoot and everything would be OK,” Jones said. “I came (to OSU) and was like, ‘I can just do the same thing.’ No. It didn’t happen like that.”
After Young and Keller graduated in the spring of 2013, OSU coach Jim Littell and his staff called Jones in to talk about her status with the team.
“I don’t think she knew where she fit in or what was expected of her,” Littell said. “We told her that spring, ‘This is your job to lose. When we start the fall, we’re starting you at the five. We’re going to give you every opportunity to either sink or swim on this.’ ”
Jones decided to swim.
After an offseason of working every day with assistant coaches Jack Easley and Bill Annan to the point of frustration, it finally clicked.
“Some days, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, will they get off me?’ ” Jones said. “But I just had to keep telling myself, ‘It’s OK. Everything will be OK.’
“I realized this summer, ‘Like, I got this. I can do this.’ ”
Littell said he knew from the start of the season Jones would be his team’s X-factor. Monday, in the Cowgirls’ second-round NCAA Women’s Tournament win against Purdue, Jones scored 16 points and brought down 12 rebounds. A defining game in an already strong season for Jones, who averages nine points and 5.6 boards in 32 starts.
Saturday, OSU will play undefeated Notre Dame in the Sweet 16.
It might not be there without Jones.
“Her growth and her development, that’s why we’re in the Sweet 16 right now,” Littell said.
For Jones, it’s been a long journey to this point. At Putnam City, she said few people knew her real name. Everyone called her “Shaq,” but she didn’t consider playing Division I basketball until schools started to call her.
In her first year at OSU, the transition was almost too much to handle.
“I didn’t want to quit, but it was just days where I was like, ‘You just need to relax and calm down,’ ” Jones said. “I was overwhelmed. Everything wasn’t a cakewalk like it was in high school.”
Littell, then an assistant before coach Kurt Budke’s death that November, said it was noticeable.
“If I could look back and do things differently, I think we probably should have redshirted LaShawn the first year and gave her a chance to mature and figure out what it was all about,” Littell said.
But with the help of teammates and the motivation of making her mother, Deanna, proud, Jones pushed through the hard times.
Now, she’s reaping the rewards.
“There’s a lot of kids in today’s game, if they don’t get (playing time), they quit, they move on, they want to transfer,” Littell said. “They want instant gratification. I’m so pleased with what LaShawn has been as a person, as a player, as a student.
“She’s overachieved in every area, and it’s just because she’s worked real hard on everything from the academics to the basketball. That’s awfully rewarding for a coaching staff, when you see a young lady come that far in three years.”
Once a liability, Jones is the Cowgirls’ go-to option in the post.
“It’s unbelievable,” senior point guard Tiffany Bias said. “A whole lot of games, we’ve really rode on her just to get us through.”
Once lost, LaShawn Jones is right at home.
“I think you have to be very tough to sit on the bench and play behind two people and go through practice and work your butt off and get yelled at and then come the next day with a smile on your face,” Bias said. “That’s what LaShawn is.”