Texas Longhorns guard Andrew Jones hasn’t seen the hardwood in an official capacity since Jan. 1. Following a fractured wrist-forced four-game absence throughout December, Jones returned to open the Big 12 slate but saw the court for a mere 20 total minutes against Kansas and Iowa State. As Shaka Smart noted, the initial thoughts were that Jones’ stamina and strength limitations were due to some sort of minor sickness, or potentially an upper respiratory infection — something that, with medicine, could place Jones back in burnt orange within days.
“I can just remember being tired at a few practices, not being able to compete like I used to,” Jones told Dime Magazine’s Oliver Maroney. “It was like I wasn’t my normal self.”
The issues ailing Jones, of course, proved to be far more serious than a minor infection.
On Jan. 10, it was publicly announced that Jones had been diagnosed with leukemia and immediately began undergoing treatment.
The concern was no longer how much longer Texas would be without its star sophomore entering the gauntlet that is Big 12 play. Just more than a month removed from his season-high 19-point showing in an emotional road win over VCU, Jones suddenly found himself fighting for his life.
“I was shocked,” Jones said. “I was just feeling like I was getting to the top of my game and on a great team. Then it felt like I had to start over. It was all taken away.”
Suddenly basketball seemed so minuscule, as Jones was now face-to-face with a form of cancer that comes with a five-year survival rate of just 57 percent. Yet, basketball didn’t stop. Just hours after Jones’ diagnosis became public, Texas had to take the floor against TCU in what became an emotional double-overtime victory, which capped with Smart following along to The Eyes of Texas with tears in his, and Jones’ No. 1 jersey being chaperoned around the Frank Erwin Center by those who were now playing for him.
That floor at the Frank Erwin Center is where Jones wanted to be that night, and every night since. Once again playing with those who were playing for him is what’s fueled Jones for the past several months.
“My biggest motivator was being back on the basketball court,” Jones told Dime. “Knowing that I could be back on the court, I used that as my motivation. My aspirations to be back on the court and playing is the main reason for why I was in a good space in the hospital and now. Without that, I don’t think I’d be here or it would’ve been much harder.”
Now, a mere six months removed from his last outing as a Longhorn, Jones is already eyeing his next one.
Numerous positive updates, a release from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, various workout videos, and brief glimpses of Jones back on the basketball court later, and the 20-year-old guard is now just a few final tests away from being cleared to suit up for the 2018-19 season. To prepare himself for that point, whether it be the Nov. 6 season-opener against Eastern Illinois or beyond, Jones has spent the past several weeks working to get his body back into basketball shape, and the past several months studying more film than he ever had before, which he told Dime has allowed him to see the game in a new light.
But the re-formed physique and heightened knowledge of the game through film study won’t be the only things Jones brings back to the court. In potentially as few as 10 months after learning that he was face-to-face with a battle with leukemia — a remarkable feat considering he was initially placed on a two-year treatment plan — Jones is on pace to return to the hardwood in an official capacity for the first time since Jan. 1.
When that time comes, he’ll come equipped with “a mindset that many don’t have.”
“I’m coming back with a mindset that many don’t have,” Jones said. “I’m coming back knowing that every day on this earth is a blessing and you can never take anything for granted. When I step on the court, that’s how I’ll play, more than I’ve ever been before. I’m more motivated than ever.”
The original feature story from Dime can be found here.