D200324 girls 1A-4A all area

Decatur Heritage's Katie Jones (25) is the Daily's girls Class 1A-4A Player of the Year. In this image, she scores two points during the Northwest Regional semifinals against Phillips at Wallace State Community College. [JERONIMO NISA/DECATUR DAILY]

Katie Jones’ rise to being the face of the Decatur Heritage girls basketball team was many years in the making.

Jones joined coach Paula Armstrong’s team her seventh grade season during the first of the Eagles’ back-to-back Final Four runs.

Jones turned into a shooter her eighth and ninth grade seasons. She then increased her scoring average to 21.4 points per game her sophomore season before suffering a stress fracture in her foot.

After fully recovering, she performed at a new level her junior year to become a first-team All-State selection and a finalist for ASWA girls Class 1A Player of the Year after averaging 23.4 points per game.

“All I used to do was shoot 3-pointers,” Jones said. “That was easy to stop, so I knew I needed to develop other parts of my game.”

Whatever expectations Eagles fans had for her senior season, Jones exceeded them.

She led Decatur Heritage to the Northwest Regional semifinals after the Eagles won the Class 1A, Area 13 title. She scored 27.9 points per game to go along with 7.5 rebounds.

Jones became the Eagles' all-time leading scorer for both boys and girls basketball and finished her career with 2,404 points. She was a first-team All-State selection.

Jones has been selected as the Daily’s girls Class 1A-4A Player of the Year.

“Katie could not have done any more than what she did,” Armstrong said. “I think what she left for the younger girls and the underclassmen is the sense that you get what you work for. I think that’s a reason why none of her teammates were jealous when she got most of the points and all of the awards.”

Jones always grew up playing multiple sports. Jones played baseball before transitioning to softball in middle school. She was also an avid soccer fan and once thought that the sport would get her a college scholarship.

Jones made the personal decision to drop her other sports and devote her time to basketball before her junior season.

“I had to make a decision about colleges and my future,” Jones said. “That really pushed me. I have more of a passion for basketball.”

Colleges took more interest in Jones during the summer before her junior season when she decided to specialize in basketball.

UNA extended an offer to her first. After picking up another offer, Samford became the third school to offer her a scholarship on June 29, 2018.

Samford had been at the top of her list before colleges took real interest in her. Committing to the Bulldogs was a no-brainer. She did so before her junior season even started.

“I wanted to commit immediately when I got offered,” Jones said. “I told my parents to not let me commit, so I could take everything in.”

Jones kept her commitment and signed with Samford on Nov. 14. That was a big milestone in her already accomplished career.

The next milestone was during a Jan. 7 game against Elkmont. Jones scored 26 points to cross 2,000 for her career and become her school’s all-time leading scorer.

“I wasn’t playing that well, because I had people tell me I was close to 2,000,” Jones said. “I finally took a breath and played well.”

She spent a lot of her senior year making sure she could push Decatur Heritage to a postseason run. She also made sure the team’s future was secure.

Armstrong said Jones motivated and worked with the team’s younger players so they could keep the team successful after her senior year.

The Eagles will have big shoes to fill next season, but Jones has faith the team can fill the void.

“I always get tears to my eyes when I think about what Decatur Heritage has done for me,” Jones said. “The amount of time coach Armstrong invested in me. How my parents got me to the games. It’s just been an amazing ride. I hate that it’s over.”

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—matthew.speakman@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2460. Twitter @DD_MSpeakman.

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