The Rise of Lil J

With the 10th pick in the third round of the 2014 WNBA Draft, the Chicago Sky selected 5’6” guard Jamierra Faulkner out of the University of Southern Mississippi. As the 34th overall pick in the draft, not many people would have given Jamierra, known as Lil J around the Sky organization, a shot at becoming a regular player in the WNBA.

Two and two-thirds seasons later, Lil J is on the cusp of setting career highs in points, steals, assists, two-point shooting percentage, three-point shooting percentage and overall field goal shooting percentage. Before one can marvel at just how incredible her progression as a player has been, you must look at her past, to see where she came from and what made this all possible.

While at Southern Miss, Lil J made major contributions to the team from the very beginning; she posted double digit scoring averages in each of her four seasons, peaking at 19.0 points per game her junior year. She improved her shooting each year, going from 39.3 percent field goal shooting her freshman year to an impressive 47.6 percent her senior year. She was more than just a scoring contributor for the Golden Eagles; she also averaged 8.6 assists and 3.1 steals per game during her senior year.

In 2014, Lil J burst on to the scene for the Sky, starting 18 of 34 games as a rookie and averaging 7.9 points and 3.5 assists per game. How is it possible the third to last pick of the 2014 WNBA Draft was able to make immediate contributions?

“My speed, using my speed to my advantage and my defense,” said Faulkner. She relied on what made her so successful in college, as many rookies do when they first enter their professional league.

In her second season as a pro, she hit a minor roadblock in her development – “sophomore slump,” as some would call it. Teams have familiarized themselves with newly drafted players, and begin to make adjustments to their style of play. This appeared to be the case for Lil J.

“I learned the pace of the game – when to go fast, when to slow down,” she explained. “My confidence was more low than it was high,” she added.

So, as is the case with many WNBA players, Lil J took to playing overseas this past offseason to kick her sophomore slump to the curb. “I had a great season overseas in Israel and that helped a lot. I was a key player and that helped my confidence a lot, which I was missing,” said Faulkner. Lil J found her groove with Elitzur Holon in Israel, leading the Israeli league in scoring and assists at 20.4 points and 6.4 assists. She improved on, “finishing at the basket, [her] jump shot, coming off pick and rolls, [and] pull-ups.”

Now we come to the present where Lil J has started 12 of the Sky’s 24 games this season, is averaging a career best 8.7 points, 4.8 assists and 1.0 steal per game as well as shooting a career-high 44.8 percent from the field and 47.7 percent from beyond the arc. When asked about her outstanding season, Lil J responded like any great team player would, “I don’t worry about the points, and assists, and stuff. I just do what’s working that can help my teammates. I’d rather get that win than those individual accomplishments and to keep getting better and better.”
Lil J is not done either.

She understands she still has room for growth and has already identified areas she wants to improve on this offseason. “I think my shooting. I think my defense is there, I’ve gotten better at my off-the-ball defense; I struggled with that, and trying not to let the frustration get to me,” Lil J said. What drives her to become a better player? “I want to be an all-star and play in the Olympics eventually,” explained Faulkner.

What better motivation is there then to set your goals to be at the pinnacle of your sport? Two and two-thirds seasons ago, at the 2014 WNBA Draft, the entire league slept on a speedy point guard out of the University of Southern Mississippi. Today, through hard work, dedication, and being a team player, Jamierra Faulkner has proven she belongs in the WNBA