FORT SMITH -- It's been 36 years since Paula Jones played her last game for Westark Community College, but her basketball legacy still lives on in Fort Smith. Her daughter, University of Arkansas at Fort Smith forward Sinetra Jones, couldn't be more happy writing the next chapter in the family's history.
"It means a lot playing in a town my mom played at and to see the town she has a lot of great memories from," said Sinetra Jones, who is in her first year at UAFS after transferring from Oral Roberts. "It's been really cool, and I'm trying to fill her shoes. But they are some pretty big shoes. She was a very good player."
Big shoes indeed. Paula Jones -- then Paula Albright -- played for Westark Community College from 1985-87 and averaged 15.4 points on 49% shooting in her initial two seasons. She was a key part of hall-of-fame coach Louis Whorton's first Fort Smith team, which was a 20-game winner for just the second time in the program's then nine-year history.
Whorton went on to build a dynasty in Fort Smith becoming the winningest UAFS women's basketball coach in program history, compiling a 648-277 overall record. He also guided the Lions to an NJCAA national championship in the 1994-95 season by going 35-0 and a second place finish in the national tournament in 1993-94.
Whorton, who passed away in 2021, always reminded Paula Jones and others that they helped establish the foundation that was needed for all the program's future success.
"My second year was when Coach Whorton took over," Paula Jones said. "It was so awesome playing for him. He was a good dude. He coached us right. He had a big heart and was really passionate about the program when he got there. We were losing before him, and he turned it around. The last time I spoke with him, he told me that it all started with us and that first team for him."
To say basketball is a big part of the Jones' family life is a bit of an understatement. In addition to her mom playing college basketball, Sinetra Jones' dad, Anthony, was selected in the second round of the 1991 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. Her sister, Manaya, and brother Anthony Jones Jr., played college basketball as well.
With that much talent in one family, there is naturally a lot of competitiveness. Discussions of who is the best basketball player in the family has come up at the dinner table a time or two.
"We in the past for sure debated on who the best athlete is," Sinetra Jones said with a laugh. "But at this point, everybody is for themselves. I would say offensive-wise I'd go with my brother and post-wise I'd go with my sister. But I think I got her in some areas."
Despite the basketball pedigree in her family, Sinetra Jones didn't start taking the game seriously until she was in the 10th grade.
"We've got a lot of basketball players in our family," Sinetra Jones said. "But I was focused on school early. I went to the games but just didn't want to play basketball. They told me whenever I was ready, they were ready to support me."
That day finally came for the Memphis, Tenn., native who was already 6-0 back in the 10th grade and was eventually coached by her dad. It was a shock to her mom, who wasn't sure if she would ever play basketball competitively.
"She said she didn't want to play, so we never forced it," Paula Jones said. "But one day she came home and told me, 'Mom, I want to play.' I had to ask her what she was talking about because I didn't think she was talking about basketball. If she would've started a little earlier, I think her fundamentals would be a little better. But every year she is improving. I'm very proud watching her play. The biggest thing is gaining confidence."
When Sinetra Jones was offered an opportunity to play for UAFS, it was one she couldn't turn down. The 6-3 forward plays the post, the same position her mom played. The recruiting process was very special to UAFS coach Ryan McAdams.
"It was a great opportunity to bring her family back to campus," McAdams said. "This place is special for them. Her mom obviously played here, but her dad did as well as a visiting player in college. We needed size, and it just made too much sense. Continuing family tradition is just very special and is not overlooked by us. It's just a real special bond. We are fortunate to be a part of this experience."
Paula Jones loved revisiting her former campus and seeing all the progress that has been made at UAFS since she last left.
"What a beautiful campus, and it's changed a lot," Paula Jones said. "We didn't have a lot that is there now. Really the whole city has changed. It was my first time coming back in a while. Everything was different. It warmed my heart when she decided on going to Fort Smith. It means a lot. I always told her that she needed to make up her own mind. I didn't want to influence the decision. But it brought back a lot of memories when she picked there."
Sinetra Jones, who wants to be a social worker and help kids working for the Department of Human Services, has drawn three starting assignments this year but has established herself as a defensive specialist off the bench in her first season for the Lions. In 11 minutes per game, she is averaging 2.1 points and 3.3 rebounds while having the second most blocks on the team with 14.
Her future potential has been on full display outside of Division II basketball. Sinetra Jones played one season at Dyersburg State Community College, where she led the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association in both 13.6 rebounds per game and blocked shots with 277.
"She has really good timing, and her length sets her apart from some folks," McAdams said. "She is a late bloomer that is going to keep getting better and better. She brings athleticism, covers a lot of ground defensively and has gotten more physical down in the paint. She does a great job learning every day and is getting better. Her best basketball is in front of her."
SCHOOL University of Arkansas at Fort Smith
NOTABLE Sinetra Jones, the daughter of former Westark Community College standout Paula Albright, transferred this season to UAFS and now continues on her family legacy of basketball in Fort Smith. … Jones has drawn three starting assignments this year but has established herself as a defensive specialist off the bench in her first season for the Lions. … In 11 minutes per game, she is averaging 2.1 points and 3.3 rebounds while having the second most blocks on the team with 14.