Losing Hones hurts, but Stanford will be OK
JJ Hones was one of the nation's most underrated point guards last season, a status only slightly ameliorated by Stanford eventually reaching the Final Four with her sharing the backcourt with Candice Wiggins.
And in talking with Hones on a number of occasions, she leaves the impression of someone who is a natural, almost unwitting, leader. Hones -- a junior who will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in her left knee, Stanford announced Tuesday -- seems to be the type of person whose presence inspires calm and confidence, rather than a person who actively tries to organize and manage (more Tom Brady than Peyton Manning, and that's coming from a Colts fan).
And while there might be better pure passers than Hones, she's among the very best at running an offense and managing a game (not to mention, knocking down 3-pointers).
Nevertheless, it's a little surprising to see early results from an ESPN.com SportsNation poll suggesting 86 percent of respondents think losing Hones for the season "precludes" Stanford from getting back to the Final Four. Makes the task considerably less likely? Absolutely. But precludes entirely? I'm not so sure.
The sad reality is just about every women's team has to deal with injuries, but Stanford is near the top of the class in coping with the aftermath (before the season, Jayne Appel even remarked that it was easier for her to deal with her minor-by-comparison knee surgery because it seemed as though every member of her class on the Cardinal had been through the injury rehab process). And if the Cardinal can avoid further serious injuries, the cupboard isn't bare in the backcourt. Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, who came back last season from a torn ACL, and Melanie Murphy, who is coming back this season from a torn ACL, are both capable of running the show for extended periods on a top-10 team.
Hones -- who suffered her injury coming down after being stripped of the ball on a shot attempt with 3:14 remaining in the first half of Stanford's 81-47 victory over Rutgers on Nov. 23 -- has been through this before, suffering an ACL tear in the same knee two years ago. After Hones went down late in the 2006-07 season, Murphy stepped in as a freshman and averaged 4.5 assists against 2.5 turnovers in the team's final 11 games. That's not Hones, but it's good.
There's also sophomore Jeanette Pohlen, who drew rave reviews for her offseason work and is off to a strong start this season (45 percent shooting behind the arc, second in assists, tied for first in steals). Pohlen might be more naturally an off guard, but she can help at either spot.
From top to bottom, the Cardinal are a good passing team. The offense shouldn't grind to a halt without Hones, especially as the team's freshmen grow more comfortable. And with both a full season to adjust and the experience of last season's postseason run in hand, that could produce a very different conclusion than the second-round flameout against Florida State that ended Stanford's last season without Hones.
In the meantime, here's hoping Hones makes a complete recovery and finally catches a few breaks in her final seasons (assuming she's granted a medical redshirt) -- as is the case with Xavier's Amber Harris and too many injured players, the college game is better with her on the court.
Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.
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