Whenever Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough took the court at the University of Maryland's Xfinity Center during the last four years, they walked under banners that contained the names and jersey numbers of the greatest players in school history. Now, they earned their own banners.
Following the Terps' regular-season finale Feb. 26, the jersey numbers of Walker-Kimbrough (32) and Jones (42) were unfurled above their home court. It was a crowning moment for two players who defined the Terps' success during the last four years.
"I was completely shocked," said Jones of the moment she found out her jersey would be raised with Walker-Kimbrough's. "Having gone through everything that we've gone through has made us stronger together. I think about how quiet we both were our freshmen year, and how we've grown vocally and tried every year to get better."
Jones and Walker-Kimbrough came to Maryland when the school was still a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Terps' dominant player was All-American senior forward Alyssa Thomas. During their four years, they have not only led the Terps' transition to the Big Ten Conference, but have helped Maryland to two Final Four appearances and put the current squad in contention for a third trip this season.
In addition to the deep NCAA Tournament runs, the senior duo has guided the Terps to three consecutive Big Ten championships during the program's first three seasons in the conference. Maryland defeated Purdue, 74-64, March 5 to win its latest Big Ten crown and clinch the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Terps, who have reached the 30-win mark for the third straight season, will take a 30-2 overall record into their seventh consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
Jones, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2017 Big Ten Tournament, and Walker-Kimbrough, who earned the same award a year earlier, took decidedly different routes to Maryland. Jones, a native of Havre de Grace, Md., comes from a basketball-oriented family. Her father, Michael Jones, played college basketball at the University of Hartford. Her older brother, Jarred, scored more than 1,000 points during his just-completed career at Loyola Maryland, while younger sister Stephanie is a freshman teammate at Maryland.
Walker-Kimbrough is an only child from the football-oriented western Pennsylvania town of Aliquippa, which has produced NFL Hall of Fame players Mike Ditka and Tony Dorsett. Walker-Kimbrough excelled at basketball, volleyball and track in high school.
"I come from a really big sports city," Walker-Kimbrough said. "Being that we're known for football, I always wanted to be that one person to make it known for something else."
Maryland head coach Brenda Frese saw the potential in both players during the recruiting process.
"I think a lot of people had doubts about our program after Alyssa Thomas graduated," said Frese, who earned her 400th win at Maryland when the Terps defeated Michigan State in the Big Ten semifinal March 4. "Bri and Shatori weren't McDonald's All-Americans. But I knew that Bri had the best set of hands of any post player that I had ever seen. Shatori had a motor, was fast and was competitive, and I thought that she was going to be able to do a lot for us from the perimeter position.
"What's been so satisfying is to see the two of them just put their heads down and work. For four years, they were the first ones in the gym and the last ones to leave. The success that they've had is in direct correlation to the time they've spent on the hardwood."
Their college careers have been tightly intertwined. Jones, whose 42-point outing against Penn State Jan. 11 tied a Maryland single-game scoring record, and Walker-Kimbrough have both earned first-team All-Big Ten honors during the last three seasons. Their names have appeared on the watch lists for national awards since the beginning of the 2015-16 campaign. Both players are among the 15 semifinalists for the Wooden Award, and Jones is one of 10 players under consideration for the Naismith Trophy.
Jones and Walker-Kimbrough are also two of the NCAA's most accurate shooters. For the second consecutive season, Jones leads the nation in field-goal percentage at .698, while Walker-Kimbrough's .447 3-point percentage ranks eighth nationally.
Their consistent production has lifted Jones and Walker-Kimbrough to a lofty place in the Maryland record books. Jones, a 6-foot-3 center, ranks third all-time in rebounds (1,173), fourth in blocked shots (157) and seventh in scoring (1,865 points). Walker-Kimbrough is one of just four Terps to reach the career 2,000-point milestone. The 5-foot-11 guard ranks second in 3-point field goals made (181), fourth in scoring (2,093 points) and 10th in steals (222).
Jones and Walker-Kimbrough are looking forward to professional basketball careers, and both players have prepared themselves for productive lives after their playing days are finished.
"I definitely want to play as long as I can," said Jones, who earned her undergraduate degree in kinesiology in just three years and plans to attend medical school. "Getting the chance to go overseas and see the world would be an amazing experience."
The Maryland seniors have made their mark on the court, but they have also been mindful of others away from basketball. Walker-Kimbrough, who has been active in Maryland's Team IMPACT program and is a longtime volunteer with Special Olympics, credited her mom, Andrea Kimbrough, for instilling the value of community service.
"It started when I was in my junior year of high school, and my mom took me to a church on Christmas Day where we fed the homeless," Walker-Kimbrough said. "It was really eye-opening, especially when you're being showered with gifts on Christmas, and then you go there and see 6-year-olds coming to get a meal on Christmas Day. Ever since then, whenever I've gone home for Christmas, we have always done that."
Their off-court accomplishments have resulted in another prestigious nomination for Jones and Walker-Kimbrough. They are among the 10 national finalists for the Senior CLASS Award, which stands for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School. The award, which focuses on the total student-athlete, will be presented during the 2017 NCAA Final Four.
"I'm extremely honored to be in that 10, because people can see that we're more than just basketball players and that we're committed to academics and to the community," said Jones, a member of the dean's list who serves on Maryland's Student-Athlete Advisory Council. "Being that positive role model for people who are coming up is a great opportunity."
Frese is certainly a believer in her seniors' past achievements and future possibilities.
"What Bri brought every day was her consistent personality," Frese said. "Her reliability will bring her great success. Shatori is never going to give up on anything. If she can't do something, she's going to work until she can. They're both going to be extremely successful, in every walk of life."
Issue 231: March 2017