Texas guard Andrew Jones already knows he’ll be present at this year’s Final Four in New Orleans. A cancer survivor, Jones will be honored as a co-winner of the United States Basketball Writers Association’s Perry Wallace Most Courageous Award.
He’s hoping the rest of his team joins him as well, and not just for moral support. Texas defeated Virginia Tech, 81-73, on Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, its first tournament win since 2014. The sixth-seeded Longhorns are three wins away from their first trip to the Final Four since 2003 and will face No. 3 seed Purdue on Sunday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.
Jones led all scorers on Friday with 21 points while grabbing five rebounds, thus continuing his remarkable recovery from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. While it looked like his career might be cut short due to his cancer diagnosis in 2018, he has instead cemented himself as one of the best players in Texas program history, moving into ninth all time in scoring with 1,603 career points.
He hopes his story will serve as an inspiration to anyone who hears it, and he wants people to see the hope he has in Jesus amid his trials.
“All glory to God,” he wrote on Instagram last week. “Just trying inspire those who have lost hope.”
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Perhaps there’s no better endorsement than that of Dick Vitale, the long-time broadcaster who is synonymous with college basketball and has undergone his own battle with cancer recently. Jones and Vitale have struck up a friendship, thanks in large part to their common bonds of fighting cancer and love for college hoops.
“Andrew is so special,” Vitale told the Austin American-Statesman this week, adding, “When I came down with melanoma and then lymphoma, he lifted my spirits with the messages he would send me. He represents Texas in such a positive and classy way.”
You're a warrior baby💙 https://t.co/9MZhlOj3xC
— Andrew Jones (@Drewdotcash1) March 9, 2022
Jones was one of the featured honorees at Vitale’s annual V Foundation gala last May in Sarasota, Florida. The event raised $6.5 million for the foundation, which supports cancer research.
“Words can’t explain how incredibly blessed and honored I am to be able to participate in such a wonderful event,” Jones wrote on Instagram. “I appreciate the Jimmy V foundation and Dick Vitale for allowing me to share my story with others. I was fortunate to build and create lifelong relationships that will never be forgotten. God has put me in a position in life to motivate and inspire those who are currently going through the same battles I went through.”
Jones’ story is also one of perseverance. Last season, on the three-year anniversary of his cancer diagnosis, Jones buried the game-winning 3-pointer to give Texas a win over Big 12-rival West Virginia. It served as a statement that not only was he back as a player, but also that cancer was never going to keep him down.
Vitale raved about that perseverance, which is a mantra that stands at the center of the V Foundation.
“It is so encouraging when a young guy like Andrew, who is a survivor, his words are very powerful,” Vitale told the American-Statesman. “In the ultimate end, you want them to follow the words of my late buddy Jimmy Valvano: Don’t give up. DON’T EVER GIVE UP.”
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Jones, a redshirt senior who is now 24 years old, technically could come back to play at Texas for a seventh season next year if he chooses, thanks to the extra year of eligibility granted to NCAA athletes because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He’s unsure what his decision will be, but he says he’ll rely on God.
“Who knows? I’m optimistic about everything,” Jones told the American-Statesman. “Because you never know what doors might open. You never know what God might put in your life moving forward. And I’m trying to live day by day, game by game. Who knows what could happen? The more we win, the better things are and the more peoples’ lives change.”
— Texas hoops star Andrew Jones hits game-winner on anniversary of cancer diagnosis
— Texas guard Andrew Jones scores career-high 20 points in return from leukemia
— Rick Barnes sends daily prayer to ESPN’s Dick Vitale: ‘God is using him in a great way’
— Coach Rick Barnes thanks God as Tennessee men collect first SEC title in 43 years
— Faith-driven Oscar Tshiebwe becomes consensus All-American, but Kentucky upset