AUSTIN, Texas — Andrew Jones flirted with leaving Texas for the NBA before returning to school for what he hoped would be a big sophomore season and a splash in the next draft.
He was on his way. The shooting guard was the Longhorns’ leading scoring through the start of what looked like a big season. After a wrist fracture sidelined him for a few games, his return to the lineup was going to be big: the Big 12 season opener against Kansas.
He hardly played. Same thing for the next game at Iowa State. Two games, 20 minutes total. The 20-year-old Jones had told his coaches he was tired. No energy. Texas sent him for tests.
Then Jones didn’t travel to a game last Saturday just 90 miles away at Baylor. By Tuesday, coach Shaka Smart looked shaken and on the verge of tears when he said he couldn’t discuss what was ailing Jones out of “respect for the family.”
On Wednesday, the school announced Jones has been diagnosed with leukemia and had started treatment.
“Speaking for our entire team and staff, we love Andrew and will do everything we can to support his family and help him get back to health,” Smart said in the university statement, and no further details were released.
“We hope everyone will keep him in your thoughts and prayers,” the Jones family said in the statement. “This is obviously a difficult situation for our family, and we hope everyone will respect our privacy at this time.”
Texas hosted No. 16 TCU on Wednesday night and the Longhorns wore “AJ1” patches on their jerseys. During pregame introductions, the Texas bench left a seat open and draped Jones’ jersey across the back.
Athletic director Chris Del Conte said the school “will do everything in our power to provide all of the resources we can to assist Andrew and his family.”
Jones, who is from Irving in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, averaged nearly 12 points as a freshman and considered leaving for the NBA draft after but returned to Texas after attending the scouting combine. His sister, Alexis, was a standout at Baylor and plays for the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx.
Jones’ family has dealt with challenges in the past. Andrew was 7 in 2007 when his father was paralyzed in a car accident on an icy road. Jones was ejected from the car but escaped with only some bruising.
The announcement of Andrew Jones’ illness prompted a wave of support on social media, including Twitter messages from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and ESPN reporter Holly Rowe, who has battled cancer.
“Gut wrenching news for Andrew Jones. So much love & support for he & his family. We are here for you ,” Rowe wrote on Twitter.
The Kansas basketball program used its official Twitter account to send Jones a message.
“On behalf of the entire #KUbball family, we send our thoughts and prayers to Andrew and his family. May he stay strong through this difficult time and we are eager to see him back on the court soon,” the Jayhawks program said.