basketball Edit

Andrew Jones used the unusual offseason to change his body and help others

You’re going to immediately notice a different Andrew Jones this season.

“Honestly, I was a wild card going into the season,” said Jones, specifically referencing playing alongside guards Matt Coleman and Courtney Ramey and why the backcourt will be better this season. “Last year was our first time actually gelling because nobody knew how I was going to play.”

Nobody including Jones himself.

Andrew Jones celebrating UT's win at Texas Tech last season.
Andrew Jones celebrating UT's win at Texas Tech last season.

Heading into the 2019-20 season, Jones absolutely was a wild card. Everyone in the Texas program was excited, but the excitement was tempered because it would be unfair to expect Jones to immediately be able to play major minutes and play well.

However, as Jones completed more practices and workouts prior to the 2019-20 season and his treatment and checkups became less intensive and frequent, it became obvious he was going to play. And he was going to play a lot as a key rotation piece. Still, nobody was quite sure what it would look like, though.

After beating Leukemia, Jones knew it would take time to shake the rust off and work back into game shape. The former five-star prospect and McDonald’s All-American surprised everyone when he stepped onto the floor and scored a then career-high 20 points during UT’s season-opener. Well, he probably didn’t surprise himself completely because Jones has never lacked confidence. But even he was a little unsure of how he was going to be effective and understood it would take time even as he wrestled with confidence and competitiveness.

While Jones enjoyed some impressive scoring nights early last season, a few things became obvious: he wasn’t the same player physically as he was his freshman season; and his burst, lateral quickness, explosiveness and athleticism weren’t at the levels they had been.

However, it also became quickly apparent Jones’s hoops brain was operating with a heightened level of intelligence thanks to all his skill work during hundreds of days of doing whatever he could, and was allowed to do, with a basketball. Instead of feeling sorry for himself, Jones went all-in on being a scout team star in 2018-19 until he could actually do full workouts again, raised his hoops IQ by soaking up as much information as possible, and worked on bettering his skill to increase his effectiveness. When Jones reached in his bag for a Eurostep in the open floor early last season, it surprised all of us. But it didn’t surprise him.

“Yeah, so like you said last year it was kind of noticeable on the court that I wasn't the fastest guard, and wasn’t the strongest or the quickest; like I manipulated the game because I understood my movements I understood the offense I understood where to get my shots,” said Jones. “And because of my inability to be athletic, I was more on the perimeter catch-and-shoot, one-dribble pull-ups. Now with my increased speed and strength, I'm more confident in attacking the basket, getting into the paint, being strong with the ball, using my pivots and either finishing over my defender or making the right read.”

How did Andrew Jones fill his free time during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic? By getting back to his roots in more way than one. You’re going to immediately notice a different Jones because he simply doesn’t look the same. That’s because the Texas guard went back to school. Old school.

But before he could do that, Jones underwent a procedure on his right hip, an issue he’s dealt with for years but never had an opportunity to address surgically until a few months ago.

“It's been bothering me since… the (NBA Draft) combine is actually when I got a MRI and discovered that my labrum was torn in both hips,” Jones stated. “But since they weren't bothering me at the time, I really didn't pay too much attention to it. And then as I tried to increase my flexibility and my range of motion, that's when I started to realize I can't move the way I want to or the way (Daniel) Roose at the time or (Andrea) Hudy wanted me to move because I just, I was incapable of doing it.

“And you know, last year that's why I kind of wasn't as fast as I wanted to be; wasn't as explosive. And once I was able to identify the problem, see what it really was, I feel better than ever; more explosive now, more flexibility, more range of motion that I wasn't able to even tap into when I was at my healthiest.”

When Jones eventually returned to the UT campus, he noticed some positive changes during strength and conditioning workouts.

“It had to be when I started training with Hudy again. Her Olympic style of training requires a level of flexibility and mobility. And once I realized I was able to get lower in the positions she wanted me to get into, that's when I started to notice like ‘Okay, my hip is recovering at the rate that it's supposed to.’ And then we started to do on court workouts and at the time I wasn't cleared to do everything that I wanted to do. But I was cleared to do certain drills, and the certain drills that I would do, I would unconsciously go hard just to test my limits.

“I'm very… I'm a risk-taker sometimes when it's with my body and certain risks I was talking I would surprise myself. And I was like, ‘Alright, let me see if I can do it again.’ And then of course trainers and people had to tell me like to calm down, slow it down. But once we started to get in live action, I was able to get more comfortable with the way that my body moved. That's when I started to realize how much more explosive and faster I've gotten.”

The strength and conditioning staff was greeted by a noticeably bigger, more muscular Jones when he arrived. He’s now listed at 192 pounds, which is seven pounds more than last season. But that doesn’t do the changes justice.

With the help of his father, David, Jones transformed his body. And he did it at home in his backyard or his garage.

“It was really during when the pandemic I started,” responded Jones when asked about adding muscle and changing his body. “Most people don't know five months ago I had hip surgery on my right hip to repair labrum tear that I've been dealing with for two or three years now. And during that time I was down, I was able to have access to a pretty good weight facility and my home that my dad was able to build for me. And I just decided to spend all my time extra time really trying to focus on changing my body, doing a lot of upper body strength.”

During some of the hottest days of the spring and summer, Jones beat the heat by beating the sunrise in the morning.

“It was hot, and we had to find a way to manipulate it. Early mornings right before the sun would come out or in afternoons, we’d find time to pull the Vertimax out or get out there in a garage. But my biggest thing my dad wanted… he taught me if you want different, you got to do different. And you can’t make excuses. So, I just put my head down during that time I was unable to actually run or play basketball or find access to a gym. I decided to focus all my energy and all my mental focus on changing my body and getting stronger."

Jones wasn’t the only one benefitting from the home gym, though.

In addition to working hard to change his body while he recovered from his hip procedure, Jones also dedicated himself to his future AAU basketball team named for his new foundation – the AJ1 Foundation.

“My dad has been investing [as much] as he can into the home facility because we have my nonprofit AAU team that I'm starting to develop. And we're using it to improve the bodies of the few kids that we have; the freshmen we have. So now he was able to get a Vertimax,” the Texas guard said. “We have our own multiple use weightlifting bench. So, you can use it to do like curls, pull-downs, bench press; you know, anything you can imagine with this multi-purpose weight system that he was able to get. So, it's a pretty decent setup that we got now at the house.”

While all this was going on during the spring and summer as Jones recovered back home, he and his family needed to ensure they were working as diligently on something else too – protecting themselves against COVID-19. Given Jones’s background, he’s at an elevated risk, and so is his father too.

“As I [gained] more knowledge for the virus and understanding of how it affects people, me personally, it was more of a self-discipline that I had to learn. It was more how can I control my actions and control as much as I can. So, the biggest thing for me is I'm not an outside person. I'm more introverted, and I was always more in the house. I honestly don't mind being in the house all day and just training. That's where I find comfort. And so, I limited my outside activity, rarely went outside, and that's why I was fortunate I've had a workout facility in my backyard.

“So, after I was able to go home and had a surgery for those five months, it was just downstairs to the garage work out, and just back into the house. And if I needed a necessity-wise, go out, but I was never out for too long. And then the children that were coming over they were coming over in moderation. So, it wasn't a crowd of people. We'll have one person in the morning then probably another person at 12 p.m., and we require them to wear masks. Even when we had our practices, we’ll have full team practices and have like 13 guys, it will be outside on the outside court, and we all had masks on. So, we made sure that we followed all the protocols to ensure the safety of children for sure and me as well.”

The gained knowledge Jones obtained during his time away from basketball games and his victorious fight against Leukemia isn’t only impacting what we’ve seen and will see on the court. Mentally, Jones has absorbed a wealth of knowledge coupled with some newfound perspective sparked by recent life chapters. He wants to share that to help others.

“My family has always been big on you know, being active in the community,” he said. “When I was growing up, my AAU team was filled with a lot of guys from my middle school when we transitioned to high school. And after my recent battle with Leukemia and all the support I was able to get, I want to be able to share the knowledge, and resources that I wasn't able to get at a young age; you know when I was I was able to develop and got on the Nike circuit my junior year that's when the resources and everything... I was starting to be able to have access to.

“Now I want to give children who weren't in similar situations as me the opportunity to have these resources and an area that typically you know most people got to pay $50, $60 maybe $100, just to train with. So, I was able to build good connections with a lot of freshmen grassroots underdog players who have similar stories or went to similar high schools or middle schools as me. And because of my story and because they watched me play, they naturally gravitated toward me. So, I just want to be able to do my part in this impact them in a positive way.”

Some might shrug at the word “underdog,” but don’t forget Jones was a three-star prospect lacking high-major offers before his recruitment exploded during his junior spring/summer. His seized a great opportunity on the Nike EYBL circuit, and quickly became a five-star, McDonald’s All-American with some of the biggest names in college basketball pursuing him.

“What I learned is, you got to have somebody who's willing to give you their time and also invest in yourself. What I learned is, these children are… it's a two-way investment,” said Jones about the freshmen players. “They're investing their hopes and dreams and their futures in me because of what I've done in the past and what I've continued to do. And I'm investing my time into them. So, that makes me want to work harder to give them the resources that I didn't have.

“Since I'm currently in college, I'm still… I know what it takes to get here, but I still know what it takes to get to the NBA. So, as I'm learning, I'm passing on knowledge. I'm real big on being fruitful and sharing knowledge to people who typically don't understand, and a lot of kids on my AAU team’s parents aren't actively involved in their recruitment, or in their basketball; they don't show up to the games half the time. So, they need that support system. And what I'm trying to do is give them a level of support that most of them don't have access to.

“And when I was growing up if I had more resources like the Vertimax or like a weight room when I was 14, 15-years-old who knows how much more developed I would have been going into college? And if you see a lot of five-star recruits and the No. 1 players in the country, they have those resources. They have that ability to get professional training at 14-years-old. So, I want to be able to give them at least a collegiate-type of workout and type of resources and access so they are able to at least be ready to go to college and not be behind the eight ball.”

Yes, the young man who courageously beat Leukemia and is a full-time student-athlete at The University of Texas is also establishing an AAU team and his own foundation. Jones knows how to use his free time, and knows it’s the beginning of something he deeply believes in.

“Right now, it’s just getting better but eventually when I'm able to get out of college, I plan on changing things and you know and actually putting my full name behind it. And that's what I'm working on right now.”

We'll see a more explosive and athletic Jones this season.
We'll see a more explosive and athletic Jones this season.

Well, that and becoming a better basketball player and winning games, of course. As last season progressed and Jones gained more strength, grew more comfortable, and enhanced his game conditioning, he began to play more and play more consistently.

During UT’s last nine games in 2020, Jones averaged 33.2 minutes per game, which included back-to-back 39-minute games (versus West Virginia and at Texas Tech) designated by as the MVP performance for Texas. Over that nine-game stretch, he started eight games and scored 14.6 points per game. With his added athleticism, flexibility, strength and explosiveness, Jones probably will see the most improvement offensively in his two-point field goal percentage and free throw rate. During Jones’s freshman season, he posted a 38.0 free throw rate and made 50.3 percent of his two-point shots; he was on pace to crush that two-point field goal percentage during his sophomore season.

Last season, Jones made just 43.9% of his two-point shots and made it to the free throw line just 56 times, which translated to an 18.1 free throw rate. Expect those numbers to improve significantly. That said, Jones is probably most excited about how much better he’ll be able to contribute on the defensive end, which was an area last season that forced him to rely on his mind instead of his physical gifts.

“More confidence on the defensive end,” he responded about where his athleticism and improved physical shape will help him the most. “I can be more aggressive in the passing lanes, more aggressive on ball, and that ultimately will help me in transition. I shot a lot of threes in transition and I'm looking to get more to the free throw line because statistically we weren’t a really good free throw shooting team, or we didn't get that many attempts. I know I’m a good free throw shooter. So, with my new strength to attack the basket and you know create that contact I feel more comfortable getting to the free throw line.”

During his freshman and shortened sophomore seasons, we saw Jones’s tremendous physical tools, stretches of excellent playmaking, and a mind growing to handle the collegiate challenge with an eye peeking towards the NBA. Last season, we saw the warrior who defeated Leukemia and used his time away from basketball to significantly improve how he thinks and processes the game on and off the court; we saw a young man with the type of newfound perspective only gained through refusing to let cancer win.

But we haven’t seen the best of Jones at Texas when the mind and body are on the same improved wavelength. That soon could change.

“I feel better than ever,” he said.

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