Brionna Jones, a former Aberdeen High School basketball star, will be in Nashville this weekend as the Maryland Terrapins play in the Final Four.
She is the third Harford County resident, and the first woman, to play in a Final Four, joining Edgewood's Dudley Bradley, who played with North Carolina in 1977, and Aberdeen's Jai Lewis, who played with George Mason in 2006. The Terps face undefeated Notre Dame at 6:30 p.m. Sunday.
"I'm excited, definitely," Jones said of Maryland's first trip to the Final Four since the Terps won the national championship in 2006. "This is what we worked for all season, what you're always working for, to get to nationals, and have a chance to win there. Everyone on the team is excited to get down there and play."
Jones said her teammates from high school have been contacting her since the tournament began on March 22.
"I've gotten a lot of texts and tweets from old teammates, especially after the win on Tuesday," Jones said. "It's been super positive. Everyone has just said they're proud of me, that they're rooting for Maryland."
The 6-3 freshman helped Aberdeen win a state 3A girls basketball title and finished her high school career with nearly 2,000 points.
On Tuesday, the Terps held off a late scramble by Louisville, 76-73, to win the regional championship in Louisville.
"It was both exciting, and really, really stressful," Jones said Wednesday, describing Tuesday's wild game. "When they were coming back at the end, there was a long stretch where they only needed one more three to tie it up. If they had hit that last shot, I don't know how we would have reacted. That's what it was: exciting and stressful."
She described the scene at Tuesday's regional championship win, during which Louisville came back from a 12-point deficit in the final two minutes and missed what would have been a game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds, as a mix of extreme emotion.
Jones, a center with the Terps, played 15 minutes in Maryland's three-point win over Louisville, pulling down five rebounds during her time on the court. She has played in every Terps game this season, including nine starts. Her best offensive game was the 18 points she scored Jan. 16 against Syracuse.
The Terps, fourth seeds in their bracket, beat top-seeded Tennessee, 73-62, in the Sweet 16, defeated fifth-seeded Texas, 69-64, in the second round and opened the tournament with a 90-52 rout of 13th seed Army. After the Terps play Notre Dame Sunday, Stanford and undefeated Connecticut meet at 9 in the other national semi-final game. The winners play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday for the national championship.
Jones and her former Aberdeen teammates made it to three straight Class 3A state championship games from 2010 to 2013, winning the last two, but the 2013 title drive took place while Jones was sidelined with a career-threatening injury. Nine games into the 2012-13 season, during a game against North Harford, Jones tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee on a routine layup. Jones underwent ACL surgery three weeks later, and sat out the rest of her senior season. She ended her high school career with 1,812 points, passing the 1,000-point mark at the beginning of her junior season.
"At first that was tough to deal with," Jones said. "It was my senior year, and I knew we had a good chance to get to the state finals again. But, I knew that being negative about it wasn't going to help, so I focused on what I could do to get healthy and get in shape for college."
Her plan worked, as Jones, who signed a letter of intent to attend Maryland in 2012, jumped into action with the Terps this season, and says her repaired knee doesn't give her any trouble.
Jones, whose sister, Stephanie, just finished her sophomore season with Aberdeen, is the second Aberdeen basketball player to make it to a Final Four.
Lewis, a member of Aberdeen's 2000 Maryland Class 2A State Champions, starred at George Mason. In 2006, Lewis and his 11th-seeded team shocked top-seeded Connecticut in the regional final, propelling George Mason into the Final Four. The Cinderella run ended with a 73-58 loss to Florida in the national semifinals.
Bradley helped Edgewood win a regional championship in 1974 and a Class B state championship in 1975, his senior year. During his sophomore season at UNC, Bradley helped the Tarheels beat Kentucky to win the East Region. In the Final Four, Bradley and UNC beat West Region champ UNLV, 84-83, but lost, 67-59, to Marquette in the National Championship game.
If Jones and the Terps beat Notre Dame, she will be one of the only two Harford County athletes to play in an NCAA Division I basketball championship game, and she will still have a chance at becoming the only Harford basketball player to win a national championship.