KNOXVILLE, Tenn.(UT Release) -- The University of Tennessee has learned of the passing of former Lady Vol basketball All-SEC performer Paula (Towns) Jones at her home in Alabama over the weekend at the age of 51.
A memorial service is slated for Saturday at 2 p.m. at Usher’s Temple CME Church, located at 411 Railroad Street in her hometown of Fort Valley, Ga. Funeral services are being handled by C. J. Edwards Funeral Home in Fort Valley, but details have not been released.
Known during her playing days as Paula Towns, the 6-foot-1 center came to UT from Peach County High School, where she was the 1979-80 Macon Telegraph and News All-Middle Georgia Player of the Year. She played 116 games at Tennessee, starting 85 of them for (then) head coach Pat Summitt from 1980-84. Towns is one of 37 Lady Vols all-time to eclipse the 1,000-point mark, finishing with 1,104 and ranking No. 32 on that list of players.
Wearing No. 51 as a freshman and switching to No. 55 thereafter, Towns started her final three seasons for the Lady Vols, averaging 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds and shooting 53.0% from the field and 69.8% from the free throw line for her career. She finished her time at Rocky Top with 10 double-doubles to tie for 25th all-time among UT women, recording a career-best six as a sophomore.
That sophomore campaign was Towns’ finest as a Lady Vol, as the center earned All-SEC First Team accolades after averaging 14.2 points and 7.9 rebounds. She shot a team-leading 57.3% from the field and 73.7% at the free throw line that season.
Towns also had averages of 11.1 points and 7.3 rebounds as a junior, and 9.4 ppg. and 7.3 rpg. as a senior, earning an opportunity to play for Houston of the Women’s Professional Basketball Association (WPBA) upon graduation in 1984.
During her time at Tennessee, Towns was a member of squads that finished second at the 1984 NCAA Final Four (23-10), third at 1982 NCAA Final Four (22-10), second at 1981 AIAW Championships (25-6) and second in the 1983 NCAA Mideast Regional (25-8), laying the foundation for the eight NCAA trophies that would eventually find a home in Knoxville.
“Paula played basketball the way Pat (Summitt) wanted the game to be played,” UT Head Coach Holly Warlick said. “She was intense, and she was extremely coachable and very respectful. She just did things right.
“She got the opportunity to speak to our team three years ago in Alabama. Hearing how she talked about her faith, her love for this program and what her time at Tennessee meant in her life was truly amazing. She was raising two boys, and I know she taught them the values she grew up with and also learned at Tennessee. She will be greatly missed by everyone, including all of us in the Lady Vol family.”
Jones, a 1984 UT graduate, is believed to be the third Lady Vol basketball player during the modern era to pass away. Fonda Bondurant (1975-77) died in 1994, while Melissa (McCray) Dukes (1985-89) passed away in 2010.