Young’s Skylar Jones shakes her head when she thinks about her basketball journey.
The 6-foot wing is one of the premier senior prospects in the country, a four-star recruit ranked 96th in the espnW/HoopGurlz national rankings. The returning Associated Press second-team all-stater is the leader of the defending Public League champion Dolphins, who also won a Class 4A sectional.
And she just narrowed her college choices to a final five of — in no particular order — Syracuse, Missouri, Mississippi State, Illinois and Rutgers.
But she wasn’t always a hoops star.
‘‘I was a cheerleader till fourth grade,’’ Jones said. ‘‘I did not think I was going to play basketball at all.’’
But then older sister Kristin Moore became the coach at a Public League program — since-closed Hope — and invited Jones to come and hang around practice.
‘‘I picked up the ball and didn’t look back,’’ Jones said.
That’s not to say everything was smooth sailing from her early days playing Small Fry Biddy Ball.
‘‘I was just dribbling and shooting,’’ Jones said. ‘‘I had no fundamentals. I was pretty bad.’’
She also was the only girl on the team.
‘‘I was so scared,’’ Jones said. ‘‘That’s what made me as tough as I am right now. . . . I actually liked it. Just playing with the boys shocked me.’’
A year later, she started playing AAU ball for the Chicago Hoops Express Flash before moving on to the Mac Irvin Lady Fire.
Like a lot of athletes, Jones found recruiting a little bumpy coming out of the pandemic. She did have an offer from DePaul before COVID-19 scrambled everyone’s playing and recruiting calendar. Gradually, other interest picked up.
‘‘I think I really had to trust the process,’’ she said. ‘‘Last year I felt like I didn’t get all [the offers] that I really wanted to.’’
But a good summer helped give her the range of options she was looking for from Power Five schools with solid academics.
Staying positive paid off.
‘‘I didn’t mope my head and sulk,’’ she said.
Now her plan is to take visits this fall with the goal of committing by the end of October.
‘‘I do think the recruiting process is stressful,’’ Jones said. ‘‘You have to realize your path is not going to be the same as others’.’’
In any case, that’s a timeline that would allow her to focus exclusively on her senior season, which she expects to be memorable.
‘‘I think the team we have now has the ability to make a real run,’’ Jones said.
The biggest difference from last season to now in her game?
‘‘I think it’s my confidence,’’ said Jones, who averaged 18 points, five rebounds, five steals and three assists as a junior. ‘‘My confidence is boosted from last year, for sure, which allowed me to play strong.’’
Stronger than her start all those years ago in biddy ball.