After 23 months of waiting, Andrew Jones is ready to go.
While Texas’ tip off to its 114th season is the first matchup between UT and Northern Colorado, the center of the Longhorns’ focus will be on the Texas bench — specifically on Jones, who has missed most of the previous two seasons for leukemia treatments.
“He’s earned the right, through the way he’s played and practiced, to be in our top six guys,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said of Jones, who finished his last cancer treatment in September. “He’s going to play a significant amount (as of the Northern Colorado game), and we’re excited about it.”
Jones is expected to be fully available Tuesday night for the first time since December of 2017, before he was diagnosed with leukemia after suffering a wrist injury.
The redshirt sophomore guard played 11 total minutes in two early-season games last year, recording three total points from the free throw line. Jones received a medical redshirt for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons following his diagnosis and recovery from leukemia.
“When he goes in the game (Tuesday) night, it’s going to be very emotional,” Smart said. “It’s going to give, I think a lot of us, a feeling of appreciation and enthusiasm for (Jones) being back out there, doing what he loves.”
Jones’ minutes in his return may be aided by an injury to sophomore forward Gerald Liddell, who is working back from a concussion. Liddell was listed as a projected starter against Northern Colorado, but his status is uncertain as of Monday.
But Jones’ presence isn’t the only thing Smart is excited about in Texas’ season-opener against the Bears. With the clock in the Longhorn locker room counting down the days, hours and minutes until the next game ticking down ever rapidly, Smart said that while Jones is still building strength, he hasn’t lost any of his basketball IQ or shooting touch.
“With how to handle (Jones’ return), there’s no manual,” Smart said. “But, in some ways he’s better. He’s wiser, his understanding of certain things is more. He’s earned the right to go in the game and play significant minutes.”