By BRADEN LAYER
---- — BEECHER CITY -- Micah Jones is no stranger to the spotlight.
Listing all the accomplishments, honors and awards she's earned during her illustrious high school career would likely fill up an entire article in itself. Which is why it should come as no surprise that Jones, who led Cowden-Herrick/Beecher City to a fourth-place finish in the Class 1A state playoffs and was named first team all-state by the AP, can now add her third straight Effingham Daily News Player of the Year award to an already sterling resume.
This season, her last in a Lady Hornets' uniform, was one for the record books. Jones averaged 23.9 points, 16.5 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 3.5 blocks per game. The versatile senior did it all while attracting the opposition's best efforts night in and and night out, still managing to shoot 52 percent from the floor.
If that's not scary enough, Lady Hornets' coach Carolyn Wendte says her best days are still to come.
"I don't think she's even reached her potential yet," Wendte said. "She needs to be pushed day in and day out. I think Edwardsville is going to get more and more out of her than what we've seen because she's such a hard worker."
It's hard to imagine that could be the case after Jones helped guide this year's squad to CHBC's third berth in the state Final Four during the past four seasons. The Lady Hornets took fourth place in 2009-10, and placed second in last year's tournament. This season in Normal, Jones set a state finals record with her 21-rebound effort against Mt. Pulaski in the round of four, matching the effort the next afternoon against Annawan.
Though the Lady Hornets came up just short in each of their two games, finishing fourth overall, Wendte said she noticed a distinctive change in Jones' play during her senior season.
Gone was the player who passed first, repeatedly looking to find an open teammate, instead replaced by a hungry forward who reveled in the chance to attack the basket.
"She took more charge," Wendte said. "I was chewing her butt out left and right last year because she was actually having too many assists."
As rare as it may be to have a coach demand more shots, that was the case this season for Jones. Still averaging 4.9 dimes a game, Jones got her numbers, but did so in a more intelligent manor.
"She still had assists this year," Wendte said, "but the reason why is because she was double and triple-teamed. She's smart enough to know that if she draws the defense away from the bucket somebody will be open, and that helped us greatly."
This attack-first mindset helped her finish ninth in the Illinois Ms. Basketball voting (Mt. Carmel's Tyra Buss won the award), but Jones says she still has a clear team-first attitude. Rather than force any shots or become too self-absorbed with offensive numbers, she's still always looking for the open target.
"I do that a lot," she said. "If they're open, I'm going to give it to them."
Jones managed to bump her assist total up slightly from 4.8 last season, while also dramatically increasing her scoring from her 16 points to this year's staggering 23.9 mark.
"You set a task out for her and she's going to make sure she does that task," Wendte said. "We knew we were going to have to work to get closer, inside shots this year. She just got so much smarter on how to do the little things. If they didn't double or triple-team her she was going to the bucket."
Jones scored more than 20 points in 25 of CHBC's 33 games, twice topping the 30-point barrier. Wendte says her star center has evolved a great deal since she was a freshman, the first year the Lady Hornets advanced to the state tournament.
But Jones has since played her last game in a CHBC uniform, leaving behind a legacy Wendte, and the community, won't soon forget.
"These younger kids have seen her work hard," Wendte said. "The little kids, I don't think she's ever turned a little kid down whether I'm talking a little kid from kindergarten or a freshman or sophomore. They look up to her, want to learn from her, they know that she know's what's going on."
Having turned in her Lady Hornet jersey for the last time, Jones is exchanging the blue and gold for a red and black Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville uniform this coming winter.
Jones says that Cougars' coach Paula Buscher hasn't yet filled her in on her role as a freshman, but one thing should remain the same.
"She hasn't said much to me be about it," Jones said. "I know she expects me to rebound a lot."
On top of her incredible talent on the glass, Wendte says her new team could also use the services of Jones' skills with the ball in her hands. The 6-1 center played the role of point guard a number of times this season, looking quite comfortable bringing the rock up the floor.
"I know I surprised people a little bit when I let her be the guard and bring the ball down," Wendte said. "I really think in the long run if she gets the chance to be in that position, she could be a forward and could actually be a guard too, be in a three-guard front. I think she could be even more of a threat in that position."
In any case, the Lady Hornets will look a lot different next winter with Jones not around.
"I've always thought for a few years now, that she's back and I can count on her," Wendte said. "It's not going to be the case anymore. It's going to be a little lonely I guess, but she'll be back."
While Wendte certainly owes some of CHBC's success to her star senior, Jones says she owes it all to her top-notch coach.
"She has made me what I am today, without her I probably wouldn't be her," Jones said. "She's put a lot of time and effort into it and i really appreciate it."
Before they say their final goodbyes, however, the two can enjoy one new experience together on the softball diamond instead of the hardwood. Jones, who ran track in her first three season, is now a senior member of the BCCH softball team. Wendte has noticed her intensity and drive to improve almost immediately.
"She's always wanted to play," Wendte said. "I didn't want her to get injured and have us lose a Division I possibility. Even in softball, she sees how the other girls are playing, how she's not quite that good, and she's going above and beyond just to try to get nice and competitive."
Jones was more modest, saying she's just along for the ride.
"It's going good," she said. "I'm having fun with it."
Knowing her impact will likely be from her efforts in the gymnasium Jones hopes that the underclassmen remember one major thing about the 2012-2013 senior class.
"Hard work pays off," she said. "If you want it you can get it, no matter how small you are or what other people say."
Looking at the CHBC girls basketball trophy case, with three state trophies shining from the past four years, her hard work paid off just fine.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org