COVID-19 Keeps Jonquel Jones, LaToya Sanders Off Court

When the WNBA tips off in July, it will be without Jonquel Jones and LaToya Sanders.

The Connecticut Sun’s Jones and Washington Mystics’s Sanders became two of the latest players in the league to opt out of the abridged 2020 season this week, though their publicly-stated reasons were not the same as others who have chosen the same.

Jones attributed concerns over COVID-19 to their decisions.

“After careful thought and consideration, I’ve decided to forego the upcoming WNBA season and use this time to focus on personal, social and familial growth,” Jonquel Jones wrote on Instagram. “This was one of the toughest decisions I’ve made but the resurgence and unknown aspects of COVID-19 have raised serious health concerns that I do not feel comfortable competing in.

“I’d like to thank the Connecticut Sun organization, my teammates and fans for their unwavering support and understanding. While I won’t be competing this year, I’m looking forward to lacing up with my teammates in 2021 and continuing the pursuit of a WNBA championships. Wishing the entire league and everyone involved a healthy and enjoyable season. Go Sun!”

Last season, Jonquel Jones was selected to the second WNBA All-Star Game of her career, made the league’s All-Defensive Team and led the W in rebounding for the second time, too. She averaged 14.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per contest in 2019, was an integral part of the Sun’s run to the 2019 WNBA Finals and was expected to be crucial to the team’s success again in 2020.

Sanders did not explicitly acknowledge COVID-19 as the reason for her absence but did mention health.

“This was not an easy choice to make, but after much thought and conversation I do believe it is what’s best for my health and family,” Sanders said in a statement. “I wish my teammates and the entire Mystics family the best this season and I will continue to watch and support them.”

Sanders posted 6.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per outing in 2019. She remained a key contributor during Washington’s playoff run, including a 17-point performance in a 103-91 Game 2 victory against the Las Vegas Aces in the Semifinals, as the team eventually lifted the WNBA Championship Trophy.

“We understand and respect LaToya’s decision and will miss her both on and off the court as we head towards the upcoming season,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said in a statement. “She has been a big part of our success over the last several years and we look forward to her continuing to contribute for us in 2021.”

Jonquel Jones and LaToya Sanders join fellow WNBA players Natasha Cloud, Renee Montgomery, Tiffany Hayes and Cecilia Zandalasini in opting out of the 2020 campaign recently. Cloud, Montgomery and Hayes all cited advocacy as their reasons for staying off the court. Zandalasini, who is Italian, has removed herself for personal reasons.

“Up until last week, we thought (Zandalasini) was a part of things as well,” Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve told media. “It’s that ultimate next big step of booking your ticket and having to get packed and ready that forces you to maybe come to realize you are having some apprehension about it. A lot of international players are going to be faced with this situation. My conversations with (Zandalasini) was just the uncertainty. The events around COVID and also the violence at the hands of the police that have created an uprising around the world were factors.

“I was looking forward to having her,” Reeve continued. “I am high on (Zandalasini) the basketball player. But I certainly respect her decision to not join.”

On June 15, the WNBA announced its plans for the 2020 season, which was not able to start May 15 as originally scheduled because of the pandemic.

“Beginning in July, IMG Academy will be the home for each of the league’s 12 teams and serve as a single site for training camp, games and housing,” the league said in a release. “The top priority continues to be the health and safety of players and staff, and the league is working with medical specialists, public health experts, and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place. Due to the fluid situation resulting from the pandemic, the league and players will continue to review the appropriate health and safety protocols and make necessary changes to the plan prior to arriving on site for the start of training camp and throughout the season.”

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert told the Associated Press that the goal is a July 24 start.

IMG Academy is located in Bradenton, Florida, in Manatee County. As of Monday morning, the county had experienced 2,737 confirmed cases and 130 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

Florida has experienced massive upticks in COVID-19, setting daily records for cases and hospitalizations. On Wednesday, the state declared 109,014 cases, up 5.3 percent from Tuesday.

The state has come under fire for its response to the pandemic, with critics noting its late closure and early reopening as Governor Ron DeSantis has continued to support reopening efforts.

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