A strong player-coach relationship the foundation of Aiko Jones's winning culture at Louisville Featured

By Sports Desk December 02, 2023 812
Jamaican Aiko Jones. (inset) University of Louisville's Head coach Dani Busboom Kelly. Jamaican Aiko Jones. (inset) University of Louisville's Head coach Dani Busboom Kelly.

It is said that a strong coach-athlete relationship is particularly vital because of its effect on the athlete.

Jamaica’s Aiko Jones can attest to that, as a simple relationship she started with women’s volleyball coach Dani Busboom Kelly at University of Louisville, has blossomed into something that runs deeper than wins or losses.

Still, the success that Jones enjoyed for the past six years at Louisville is credited to the effective coaching ability of Busboom Kelly, who ensures that her athletes success goes beyond their record on the court.

In fact, it is that sense of belonging, positive moral and ethical growth that resulted in Jones’s decision to stay at Louisville for a sixth year, and as fate would have it, she was named to the All-ACC volleyball team for the fifth time this week.

Simply put, the 24-year-old graduate student and team captain is certainly making the most of her bonus COVID year, as she has been an indispensable cog in the Cardinals' rise to national prominence, with hopes for one last deep run in the NCAA tournament.

"One more year to be with this program and continue to grow as a person, It's priceless. So why would I give that up,” Jones said in a recent interview with WDRB.com.

"People ask how I ended up here and I tell them I met Dani [Busboom Kelly] and she asked me to leave my country and my family, and I've trusted her with my life ever since. But that's kind of the story,” she added.

The two first met when Busboom Kelly had Jones at a camp at Nebraska, when the coach was still an assistant coach there. When Busboom Kelly got the head coaching job at University of Louisville, Jones, a Wolmer’s Girls and University of the West Indies alumna, who had accomplished more in track and field, was one of her first recruits.

"They have club (volleyball) but it's nothing like they have here," said Busboom Kelly.

"Her high school court is outside. She was really a blank canvas that we could work with. She also could see her potential. So, it was really fun to train her. Everything was new. She could see the progress. She could see the changes. That made her work even harder,” the coach added.

Jones, the daughter of Jamaican radio personality Paula-Anne Porter, admitted that it was somewhat overwhelming at times.

"It was scary. When I first came to the US to come to a volleyball camp it was scary because I was with kids my age or younger who were so good. I remember sitting and writing in my journal, 'your story is different. It's OK that they are so much better than you and how you perceive things to be.' But it was intimidating for sure and sometimes still is. Also, it's pushed me to work much harder,” the over six-foot tall right side hitter, shared. 

Interestingly, the player-coach relationship has moved in concert with the Cardinals’s growth as a national power that has now included back-to-back final fours.

“And I tell her [Busboom Kelly] all the time, I would follow her anywhere, and that was a huge part of my decision and the culture that she's built here, and I feel like we've built together,” Jones noted. 

“I always have family here. I love Louisville. It's home to me. Jamaica will always be home, but Louisville is home and I just love it,” she declared.

Busboom Kelly echoed Jones’s sentiments.

“It's amazing when you feel like you get the total package. Not only a great athlete, but a physical athlete and then somebody that really loves Louisville. We have everybody vote for captains and they have to write why they voted for so and so and we had somebody wrote for Aiko, 'she just loves Louisville,” Busboom Kelly ended.        

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