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Shaka Smart: Support for Andrew Jones ‘means a lot’

The sophomore guard’s leukemia diagnosis sparked a nationwide outpouring of support.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Texas Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

As Texas Longhorns sophomore guard Andrew Jones battles leukemia, expressions of support from around the country have meant a lot to him, head coach Shaka Smart said last week.

In the immediate aftermath of the school revealing the diagnosis, Texas won an emotional double-overtime contest against TCU at the Erwin Center in front of a crowd that made its feelings clear about their star player.

“We talked about this after the game, just the level of support that people have provided, it just says a lot about Texas and about UT and about how much people care about the student-athletes that make this place, athletically, what it is,” Smart said.

In fact, the Texas community has rallied around Jones, with alumni, former athletes, and the families of team members contributing to a fund set up to help pay for his medical bills and necessary family expenses. Since it launched two weeks ago, nearly 1,500 people have donated close to $150,000.

The contributions have stretched beyond Longhorns, too — national media members have given their financial support, as have opposing fans. Many people have offered donations in honor of loves ones who have battled cancer.

Opposing teams have joined in, too. Oklahoma State wore specially-made shooting shirts with Jones’ name and number on the back.

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins posted a heartfelt message on Twitter expressing his support for Jones and his battle:

Cancer survivors have also shared their own stories in open letters, including a former Daily Texan columnist who overcame leukemia seven years ago. A Division III basketball player with a similar story, Nick Paquette, also spoke of his successful battle to get back on the court:

What reassured me even while I was bed-ridden was that my doctors were always optimistic I’d make a longterm recovery and be able to lead a normal life. They told me that I’d be able to return to school and perhaps even play high-level basketball again if my body felt up to it.

Six months later, Paquette scored 13 points in 28 minutes in his return and wrote that he now feels better than he has in two years.

My prayers are with you, Andrew. I sincerely hope your fight against leukemia has the same outcome mine has. I hope you’re back on the floor starring for Texas next season and working to achieve your NBA dreams.

If I could give you any advice, it would be to stay strong, keep a positive mindset every day and truly believe that you’re going to get through this. It’s really all about progressing every day and taking baby steps toward your goal. Obviously there will be tough days, but push through them.

Don’t let leukemia stop you from doing something that you love.

Out of respect to Jones and his family, there aren’t a lot of specific details about his battle, though he is in Austin undergoing treatment.

Smart, who tries to visit Jones every day, believes in his willpower, echoing the sentiments of everyone who has come into contact with him.

“I enjoy getting a chance to see him,” Smart said. “He’s got an incredible spirit. He’s a guy that is a great fighter and really provides a sense of perspective and understanding for me.”

For now, the focus of Smart, his team, and the Longhorn community is in providing support for Jones in the hope that it will help him push through.

“I really appreciate the fact that people care so much, that they’ve reached out, and I know people will continue to do so because this is a long-term fight,” Smart said. “I know it’s a daily battle for Andrew, but people being behind him and supporting him, even if it’s from afar, I know that means a lot.”