While the Texas Longhorns finished the 2018-19 basketball season cutting down the nets at Madison Square Garden after winning the NIT, the best feel-good story of the season actually happened at its beginning.
During the opener against Eastern Illinois, guard Andrew Jones took the court at the Erwin Center to a standing ovation 10 months after he was diagnosed with leukemia. The comeback season for Jones probably didn’t unfold in ideal fashion from his perspective — he only played in two games, scoring three points, and didn’t play after receiving further treatment over Christmas break — but it did provide a potential launching point for a truly resurgent season.
“I expect Andrew Jones to play next season, and play a lot,” Bitterwhiteguy wrote recently at Barking Carnival. “The only reason he didn’t play in the second half of the year was to preserve redshirt options going forward. Barring some sort of really severe medical U-turn, he’s ready to rock.”
Indeed, Jones does appear ready to contribute, if recent videos of him dunking are any indication. Jones deleted one that included a caption about “feeling bouncy” again, but one is still up:
In it, Jones looks as explosive as he has since his initial diagnosis and treatment in January 2018, which left him unable to dunk for seven months.
As the 6’4 guard prepares for his senior season, the question is the extent to which he can contribute — in that regard, he’s the team’s greatest wild card in a pivotal year for head coach Shaka Smart in Austin.
Before the diagnosis, Jones was on track to become a key piece in Smart’s Texas tenure after averaging 11.4 points per game as a freshman and opting to return to school after exploring the pre-draft process. As a sophomore, Jones took the next step in the 10 games in which he appeared by increasing his scoring average thanks to major gains in efficiency, including a jump of nearly 10 percentage points in his shooting percentage and even greater gains behind the arc, skyrocketing from a 32.8 shooting percentage from distance to 46.3 percent.
Through the first seven games, before Jones suffered a fractured wrist and really began to struggle on the court, he averaged 15.3 points per game.
He was on the fast track to the NBA as an emerging defender with a rapidly-advancing offensive game.
All the while, Jones dealt with the emerging symptoms of his leukemia.
“So, I started feeling sick kind of after we got back from Australia,” he said in a documentary. “We started getting to the season...I started to feel run down, started to feel heavy.”
Now Jones is regaining the strength and athleticism sapped by his treatment. With the departure of Kerwin Roach II, Texas needs to replace the slashing and finishing ability of a player who had to work hard throughout his college career to even approximate the shooting success that Jones flashed as a sophomore.
If Jones can come close to fully recovering physically, he could essentially represent the addition of a five-star, top-30 prospect to the 2019-20 Longhorns roster — exactly what he was when he arrived in Austin nearly three long year ago.
Except now, he’s more mature, with an appreciation for the gift of being able to play basketball honed in the crucible of fighting for his life.