Impact of UT point guard Andrew Jones' leukemia diagnosis felt throughout the Big 12
In the middle of what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive and cut-throat seasons of Big 12 Conference basketball, news out of Austin, Texas, served as a reminder that these teams, players and coaches all really like each other.
Just before Texas' upset victory over No. 16 TCU on Wednesday night, the Longhorns revealed that sophomore point guard Andrew Jones had been diagnosed with leukemia and was facing a health battle far more difficult than any conference basketball game ever could be.
“We had a meeting (Tuesday) night over in the dorm, and at that point we told our guys what the diagnosis was,” Smart told the Austin American Statesman after UT's 99-98 emotional double-OT win over TCU. “Leaving that meeting, we had guys that weren’t just in tears, they were wailing."
Jones, UT's second leading scorer who already missed a couple of games this season because of injury, may not be on the floor the rest of the way, but it's clear that he still will have an impact on the UT team and the rest of the conference.
“Yesterday, I know, was devastating for the University of Texas,” KU coach Bill Self said Thursday morning. “But it was also for everyone else in our league. We wish Andrew a very speedy recovery so he can get back on the court as soon as possible.”
Several coaches in the conference have at least some idea of what Jones, Shaka Smart and the UT family are facing from their own past experiences with tough situations.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said his program went through something similar during the not-too-distant past when the wife of former WVU assistant coach Billy Hahn went through her own fight with cancer and leukemia that had a profound impact on the Mountaineer program.
“It's terrible,” Huggins said. “We all need to do more to try to rid the world of this terrible disease. You feel so bad for the person inflicted, but you feel almost equally bad for the families. It's just a hard, hard thing to go through.”
Baylor's Scott Drew and his team had to deal with big man Isaiah Austin having basketball taken from him because of an eye condition. And that memory, along with firsthand knowledge of the kind of person Jones is, made the whole situation weigh heavy on Drew's heart.
“We recruited Andrew, his sister played here, love his family, love him and I know we were all devastated and taken back by the announcement,” Drew said. “Andrew's a fighter, always has been, and his family fights and he's going to beat this thing. He'll be in our thoughts and prayers and I text Shaka yesterday to let him know we'd be thinking of them because I can only imagine how difficult that would be to go through.
“It is a game, it's only a game, and sometimes we take it too serious when we're all blessed to have health and life.”