The newest member of the Vietnamese women’s national basketball team was born in Germany and raised in Texas. She graduated from high school in San Antonio, spent her first year of college in Ohio, and is transferring to a school in Illinois. She has traveled to eight countries in 19 years, often to conduct basketball camps with her German-born father, sometimes accompanied by her Japanese-born, Vietnamese mother.
Meet Mailee Jones, a fascinating weave of global DNA, foreign culture, and international basketball genes. Her father, David Jones, played pro basketball in Germany, France, Poland, Austria, and South America. Her mother, Diane, is the daughter of a Vietnamese woman and a Kentucky-bred dad.
For as long as she can remember, Mailee has been hooping and traveling, knocking down shots and embracing foreign adventure. A 2016 graduate of Reagan High School, where she was an All-District guard, Mailee is the first Vietnamese-American to make the Vietnamese national team.
The country’s national team, which is weak, needed an infusion of skill and talent. Mailee, who had recently left Youngstown State in Ohio, needed a new adventure. When she tried out for the team in May, two needs were met at once. After she became the last player added to the 19-member roster, Mailee was featured on Vietnamese television.
The three-minute segment showed Mailee training with her father, playing pickup with boys, and teaching girls how to dribble.
“Vietnam,” she said, “is in my blood.”
Mailee’s grandparents live in Saigon, Vietnam. She visited them when she was 7 years old and returned in May with her parents. During her most recent trip, she applied for dual citizenship. Once the process is complete, most likely within a few months, Mailee will be eligible to compete for the national team – a team that finished last at the 2015 Southeast Asian Games, losing all five games.
“They see me bringing progress to women’s basketball in Vietnam,” said Mailee, a 5-foot-8 combo guard with a lethal 3-point shot. “This is an unbelievable opportunity for me to experience what life is like not having all the luxuries we have in the U.S., such as indoor courts, hardwood floors, and weight training facilities. We tend to take those things for granted. To them, these seemingly normal training opportunities are something of a dream.”
Women’s basketball in Vietnam is developing, its popularity ranking below football, Australian Rules Football, cricket, rugby, tennis, running, and badminton. When Mailee tried out for the national team, her skill set and knowledge made her an instant hit.
“The coach put me through a workout and scrimmages,” Mailee said, “and he was floored.”
Mailee learned the game from her father, a great pure shooter in his day who can still stroke the 3-pointer at age 50. David, better known as “DJ,” possesses textbook-perfect shooting form. Through his San Antonio-based program, “Shooting for Success,” DJ has trained a full spectrum of talent, from 3- and 4-year-olds to NBA and WNBA veterans.
Former Stars guard and three-time WNBA All-Star Marie Ferdinand Harris trained under DJ. So did Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin. Writer Fran Blinebury of NBA.com credited DJ with aiding Lin’s rise from obscurity to stardom in 2012.
“Before there was Linsanity and multimillion-dollar endorsement opportunities and world-wide fame,” Blinebury wrote, “Jeremy Lin was a ballplayer with a broken jump shot. So David Jones fixed it.”
A man known around the world as “The Shot Doctor” is the one who taught Mailee to shoot. She became such a fine student that Mailee began helping him lead clinics in Germany, Austria, India, Italy, Switzerland, England, China, and Vietnam.
Less than a year ago, Vietnamese coaches asked DJ to start a youth basketball program in their country modeled after “Shooting for Success.” DJ agreed and traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Vietnam for six months. In May, he took Mailee. She visited her grandparents in Saigon, soaked up the culture in the city of 8.4 million with her parents, and worked out for national team coaches.
“They were excited to have me there,” she said.
For a while in the spring, Mailee was in basketball limbo. After one year at Youngstown State, where she averaged 3.6 points a game off the bench, Mailee decided to transfer. Although she made the all-tournament team at the Bank of Hawaii Classic and the academic honor roll as a freshman, Mailee felt the school was not a good fit.
The Joneses got a call from Chicago State, where the women’s team was coming off a winless season. During a memorable six-week stretch, Chicago State offered a scholarship and Mailee made the Vietnamese national team.
“We got more than we ever thought in a month and a half,” DJ said. “It was a great lesson for her, because she didn’t put her head down and sit at home and feel sorry for herself.”
Soon, Mailee will enroll in her new college as a business administration major, secure dual citizenship, and become eligible to compete for the Vietnamese national team.
“I’m thrilled,” she said. “I think about it every day. I will have to sit out this upcoming year at Chicago State [as a transfer] and redshirt. But as long as my education is complete, that will be good. I think we’re going to make history in Vietnam. It’s not known as a strong team. But with me being there and the talent they are bringing in, I think we’re going to do great things.”