COLLEGE PARK — The night Stephanie Jones honored what has become a sibling tradition, her left knee resembled Jell-O. She still hasn't watched video of the play. Kevin Ware-esque is her comparison, if a slightly exaggerated one, since she avoided the former Louisville guard's bone-through-skin gruesomeness.
But it was bad, to be sure. The leg was covered up as Jones was helped off the floor, the drastic dislocation hidden from onlookers, like a screen for a racehorse having to be put down on the track. The Aberdeen girls basketball team's home game Jan. 14 against Fallston was less than a minute old, and Jones had four points and no chance of returning.
She headed for the hospital. When Brionna Jones, Stephanie's older sister and then a junior center on the Maryland women's basketball team, returned to her locker after a win at Michigan that night, she checked her phone: close to 10 missed calls. Something was amiss. Stephanie was hurt.
"They told me something was wrong with her knee," Brionna recalled Thursday. "So then I was like: 'It's not her ACL, right?' "
Wishful thinking. When an MRI two days later confirmed the ligament damage, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Leigh Ann Curl joked with Stephanie and Brionna's father, Mike: "Maybe you all got an issue." The three oldest of his four children had all torn an ACL in high school; she came to perform the surgery on each.
For the second game in a row, the Maryland women's basketball team leaned on senior center Brionna Jones and overwhelmed its opponent in the second quarter.
By Gene Wang
Dec 08, 2016 at 9:10 PM
On Monday, the No. 4 Terps (10-0) face Loyola Maryland (4-5) in Baltimore, and perhaps the biggest question mark among the five Joneses in attendance will not be the structural integrity of a knee but the color of a top inside Reitz Arena.
Brionna is coming off a career-high 30-point game. Stephanie is in the team's rotation as a freshman wing. Jarred, a redshirt senior, is leading the Greyhounds men in scoring — and has been warned that he had "better wear red."
"It's going to be a special day," said Mike, who will be rooting for Maryland with his wife, Sanciarhea. "Every time I come in here and see them both on the court, it's just great. You get two-for-one. You can't beat that."
The sisters' partnership this season already has lasted longer than in their lone year together at Aberdeen. In the 10th game of the Eagles' 2012-13 campaign, Brionna, the reigning All-Metro Player of the Year, had her right knee buckle as she planted her foot for a layup in a home game against North Harford.
"The way it gave out, you're like, 'It was not ACL,'" Mike said. "It just looked like it hurt."
The diagnosis did: She was out for the season, and only 100-something points shy of becoming the first Harford County girls player to reach 2,000 for her career.
Three years later, Stephanie, now a senior, was approaching Brionna's points total. Early in the game against Fallston, she went up for a rebound and fell awkwardly. It looked to Mike, an Aberdeen assistant coach sitting courtside, as if she might have twisted her ankle. When he saw his wife come running out of the stands to tend to Stephanie, he knew it must be worse.
"The way my leg looked, I knew it wasn't good," Stephanie said. "My kneecap was, like, on the side."
It was a complete tear. She was told that if she completed about a month of pre-surgery rehabilitation before her operation in March, she could resume basketball-related activities as early as October. Which, Stephanie realized, wasn't much of a preseason. And if she couldn't play the way she felt she should, why not redshirt?
Brionna told her to focus on her recovery. That was Brionna's regret from her own freshman-year rehab: the feelings of inadequacy during the days when she was slower than she'd been in years — and "I'm slow initially," she cracked. Brionna thought back to how she wondered whether she could even play at a power-conference level after her surgery.
She did not want the same for Stephanie, because for as different as they are — Brionna likes pink, dominates inside and keeps her fire at a controlled burn; Stephanie favors purple, perimeter play and letting people know when she's fired up — their matching knee scars linked them as much as their jerseys or surname.
They were quick to reunite in College Park. The day Stephanie graduated from Aberdeen in May, she moved in to her room in College Park for the start of summer classes and her rehab. During practice, Stephanie ran the stairs inside Xfinity Center, just as Brionna had. Stephanie worked with team athletic trainer Megan Rogers to run and cut and jump without needing a brace, just as Brionna had.
"And when she first got on the court, just shooting a basketball, she was just so excited," Brionna said. "Just seeing her happy again playing basketball, that was so exciting."
Mike smiled in recalling the one-on-one battles the sisters waged as kids on the dirt court in the family's backyard. "Not pretty," he said. The talent they honed, the competitiveness they forged — they've made another winter of special moments possible.
The Terps' biggest win this season provided one. Early in the second quarter of their ACC/Big Ten Challenge game at then-No. 7 Louisville, Brionna posted up a Cardinals defender on the left block. As she spun insde, a teammate cut to the goal and Brionna lost the ball. She saw the flash of a familiar black jersey. She poked the ball in its direction.