Andrew Jones’ Long Journey Back

When Texas tips off against Iowa State at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City on Wednesday night, they’ll do so with a depleted roster. Future lottery pick Mo Bamba might still be sidelined with a sprained toe. Junior guard Eric Davis is still being held out from competition after being named in the ASM Sports documents. And, as his heart-wrenching story has captivated Longhorn Nation, Texas will play out the rest of the 2017-18 season without standout sophomore scorer Andrew Jones.

On Jan. 10, UT Athletics announced that Jones had been recently diagnosed with leukemia. After missing most of December with a fractured wrist, Jones complained of fatigue upon his return. On Feb. 3, the Jones family released a statement for the first time since his diagnosis. Andrew had been moved to MD Anderson for treatment on Jan. 19, and in the two weeks since, he’d made positive strides in his recovery, like getting up and walking around, which the family implied wasn’t happening before treatment began.

On February 13, Longhorn fans and Jones supporters worldwide got another glimpse of hope via Jones’ Twitter feed. He posted a video dancing while brushing his teeth, captioned “How I wake up in the mornings. #LookAlive.”

Jones, on his feet, swaying to Drake’s verse on the BlocBoy JB song “Look Alive” and flashing a toothy grin at the camera grabbed the attention of cancer survivors, West Virginia fans, and everyone online who loves a good comeback story, and garnered 42,000 likes.

Jones has since declared his intention to play during the 2018-19 season, and was spotted recently putting up some shots in a gym.

He still has a long road back to playing major college basketball, but as of Feb. 24 is out of the hospital and receiving treatments on an outpatient basis. A statement released by the family read, in part, “I’m really thankful for all the love and support that has been shown to me and to my family. It has truly been overwhelming. I hope you’ll continue to keep me in your daily thoughts and prayers. Together, we WILL win this fight.”

When I profiled Shaka Smart before the 2016-17 season, I was given access to a preseason practice. Jarrett Allen, then a highly touted freshman and now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, was the obvious focal point for the team, and the physicality of the almost-seven-footer was easily apparent. But for me, the brightest spot of the practice, which showed the rust of some veteran players and the greenness of the newer ones, was Jones. The 6-foot-4 guard grabbed rebound after rebound in traffic, snatching the ball away from players four to six inches taller. I remember thinking that Jones didn’t take sequences off, and didn’t view practice as a nuisance; it was his chance to get better and earn more minutes during games. It worked. Jones started 23 out of a possible 33 games as a freshman, averaging 27.9 minutes per.

Near the end of practice, fellow freshman Jacob Young got frustrated after Smart was hard on him following a particularly bad sequence. Jones was the first player to embrace Young and help him calm down with a pep talk. I asked Jones after practice what he told Young.

“I had to get him together, I had to bring him in,” Jones told me. “I had to tell him to focus on the next important thing.”

In a recent interview, Jones told a radio host that the most important thing to him is being able to get out and live a regular life. In this unfortunate scenario, Longhorns and Jones fans worldwide are assuming the role he played with Young almost 18 months ago. Among the wave of support Jones has received on social media, at presstime, a Hornraiser campaign started to raise money for medical and family expenses had raised $197,276.

 

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