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Shaka Smart expects Andrew Jones to contribute for Texas this season

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After missing most of the last two seasons, Jones is done with his leukemia treatment and poised to play once again.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

The comeback story of Texas Longhorns guard Andrew Jones, now classified as a redshirt sophomore, will get to write a new chapter when the Horns open against Northern Colorado at the Erwin Center in less than two weeks. According to head coach Shaka Smart at Big 12 Media Day on Wednesday, it may be a chapter that features significant contributions from Jones.

Jones was initially diagnosed with leukemia in January of 2018 and continued receiving treatments last season as he practiced with the team. The first two games featured Jones playing 11 total minutes, but because he continued to receive treatments and had to practice with a PICC line, he wasn’t able to make any more appearances for the Horns.

“Andrew is such a competitor he’s out there working his tail off in workouts even with that PICC line in his arm,” Smart said.

This summer, he was able to work out with team prior to receiving his final treatments in September, just before Texas started practicing late in the month.

“He’s definitely played well enough in practice to be a guy who gets significant minutes for us, actually led us in scoring the other day when we had a scrimmage,” Smart said. “So we’re excited about the progress he can make. Certainly there’s an understanding that he still has to continue along that process that he’s on.”

The coaching staff is focused on ensuring that Jones doesn’t feel any pressure to immediately show that he’s the same player he was before his leukemia diagnosis — he hasn’t played in nearly two years and his treatments have made it difficult for him to maintain the necessary level of conditioning to contribute at high level, especially in regards to keeping his muscle mass and explosiveness.

However, his scoring outburst in the scrimmage against UTSA — reportedly 21 points in 20 minutes — showed that Jones still has the same scoring ability that put him on the fast track to the NBA before his diagnosis.

Getting strong contributions from Jones could be a major benefit for a Longhorns team picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 season — the backcourt already has plenty experienced depth for the first time in years with returning players like junior point guard Matt Coleman, sophomore combo guard Courtney Ramey, and junior sharpshooter Jase Febres. Adding Jones into the mix could make the group capable of holding its own against anyone in the country.

“We really believe he’s going to be able to help our team,” Smart said. “He’s a terrific shooter — he can put the ball in the basket — and he’s got great experience.”

Jones was averaging 13.5 points per game on 46.3-percent shooting from beyond the arc during his sophomore season prior to his diagnosis.