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From the Press Box with John Cox - Shirley Jones-Hill

Jan. 26, 2018 As we pass the midway point of another college basketball season I wanted to take time to write about one of the greatest most determined athletes and unforgettable people I have ever known. An athlete that in her own special and unique way transformed the course of Southern Miss athletics by her performance and accomplishments on the basketball court but in so many other ways for nearly 40-years—Shirley Jones-Hill.

 I am not sure that I have ever met anyone who didn’t know my good friend Shirley. No matter where you went or where you were someone there not just knew of her they had a story about her and they knew of her selfless dedication and long time commitment to making Southern Miss something special.

As a student-athlete for the Lady Eagle basketball team, to coaching for the Lady Eagles, to years as a valuable member of our sports information department and athletic department, she made a difference in everything that she did.

When Jones-Hill began her basketball career at Southern Miss the program was still in its early stages in the modern era. Although the program had been reestablished just a couple of years before Jones-Hill arrived in the fall of 1977, she came with every intention of making the school one of the basketball powers in the state and the region. She knew who the best players were in the state, she knew where they were and she knew what it would take to get them to Southern Miss.

Kay James had just arrived from Berry College in Georgia to take over as head coach and she would make Jones-Hill her first signee and leaned heavily on her in accomplishing the goals she had for the program.

Jones-Hill came to Southern Miss with impressive credentials and as an all-state player at Northeast Jones High School in Laurel, Mississippi, and had attracted the attention of college scouts from all over the South. She could do it all. She became the perfect “quarterback” and leader on the court for the Lady Eagles during her career and whatever her team needed her to do she would seem to always find a way to do it. She was the most unselfish player that I have ever seen, never concerned about her statistics or any individual goals, to her it was always about the team.

As a freshman in 1977-78 she would help lead the Lady Eagles to a 15-10 record against one of the toughest schedules in school history. She was among the team’s leading scorers with a 10.7 average and led the team in assists and steals. But what was most striking about her performance that year was her leadership on that young team and her hustle and determination. Even in the first season under James with Jones-Hill at the controls, people who had followed the Lady Eagle program could tell that the future was bright and that amazing things were ahead for the team. Jones-Hill was the player that it all rotated around. She was a coach on the floor, an extension of Coach James and she ran that team like an experienced veteran.

In 1978-79 the Lady Eagles would once again post a winning record at 16-10 as Jones-Hill was among the leading scorers on the team with a 9.9 average. She would lead the team in steals with 116 and in assists with 108. That team won its first ever game in the MAIAW state tournament, defeating host Mississippi College 86-84 in the opening round. The victory that afternoon was a signal that the Lady Eagles had arrived and that they would be a team that other teams in the region would have to be ready for. Jones-Hill played with the confidence of a seasoned veteran as she continually displayed the overall skills that would give the Lady Eagles the chance to compete with every team they played.

By the 1979-1980 campaign the Lady Eagle program was starting to attract attention around the country and Jones-Hill would average 10.6 points per game, along with 111 steals and 110 assists. She was now teamed with some of the most talented players in Lady Eagles history like center Nancy Faulk and center Pam McCoy, both who would one day join Jones-Hill in the M-Club Alumni Association Sports Hall of Fame. As the team got better so did the crowds at Reed Green Coliseum as the Lady Eagles played the run and gun, get up in your face style of basketball that Coach James loved to play.

The 1980-81 season would be a breakout year for the Lady Eagles as Jones-Hill led them to a 22-7 mark and a berth in the AIAW Region 3 Tournament. In the opening round they would defeat Miami of Florida 80-75, before losing in the second round to Jackson State 66-62. Jones-Hill averaged 9.3 points a game on that team and lead the team in steals with 109.

Jones-Hill finished her career as one of the select few players that have ever scored over 1,000 points in their career. She finished with 1,025 points and still remains among the school’s leaders in steals (336) and assists (335).

Following her amazing career she would remain with James as an assistant coach for a couple of years and recruited and coached some of the schools greatest players like Portland McCaskill, Wilhelmina Smith, and current Lady Eagle coach Joye Lee-McNelis. Following her brief coaching career at Southern Miss, she became a fixture in the sports information department covering of course women’s basketball, but helping out and making a difference in all other sports and in the process, became known far and wide by coaches and administrators of teams all over the country.

In her time in sports information she worked under and with Sport Information Directors Ace Cleveland, Regiel Napier, Mike Montoro and Jack Duggan. In 2012 the College Sports Information Directors of America honored her with a 25 years of Service Award at their annual convention in St; Louis.

When she received that award Napier said at the time, "Not only a standout high school and collegiate athlete, Shirley quickly developed skills that made her invaluable not only to the media relations office but also to the entire athletic department. She was, and remains, an `I never-met-a-stranger, I-can-quickly-master-any-computer-program, and I-can-help-you-out-of-any-difficult-situation-you-might-be-able-to-imagine' person who did exactly that for me more times than I can recount. The time we worked together remains very special for me. When she eventually retires someone will take her place, but replacing her will be much harder."

What made her great on the basketball court made her great in the sports information business.

I was lucky enough to be broadcasting the Lady Eagle basketball games on radio back in those days and had a front row seat in watching the growth of the program, but also to see up close how important, Shirley was to the success of those teams. It was the same drive, dedication and love of Southern Miss that I saw on the basketball court that made her so successful in covering and promoting Southern Miss and Southern Miss athletics throughout her career.

Jones-Hill and her husband Moses proudly watched their two daughters, Courtney and Megan, compete and have standout careers on the softball field for Southern Miss.

Although she is retired now from Southern Miss you can still see her working at various Southern Miss athletic events and with the same smile and enthusiasm that she always brought to the Golden Eagles and all the sports that she worked and waving and stopping to talk to all the fans.

Perhaps the greatest testament to her career and her love of Southern Miss is the fact that she was the first women to be inducted into the M-Club Alumni Association Sports Hall of Fame when she was inducted on April 21, 1989, along with USM football greats Lionel Fayard, Buddy Palazoo, Fred Smallwood and Sammy Winder.

No one ever loved Southern Miss more than Shirley Jones-Hill and her accomplishments have always help take Southern Miss to the Top!

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