Andrew Jones operates with an unrelenting desire to overcome the odds.
Tell him he can’t. He will.
Tell him he isn’t good enough. He will prove you wrong.
“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder because I never really had the hype,” he said. “People were always like, ‘He’s good but he’s not there yet.’ They always (focused on) my weaknesses and never really promoted my strengths.”
Take last spring for instance. Jones, a five-star guard who averaged 30 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists as a senior at Irving MacArthur HS, was so excited to play in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American Game at Chicago’s United Center, also known as the House That Michael Jordan Built.
It was certainly a game to remember for Jones but not for nostalgic reasons.
Jones and his East teammates lost 114-107, and he left the arena that night with the dubious distinction of being the only player from either side to not log at least 10 minutes. His final stat line: 0 for 3 from the field, one assist and one turnover in seven measly minutes.
“I was very mad I didn’t play (much),” he said. “I took that very personally. I felt like I deserved to be out there and play equal minutes, but the past is the past and I’m (moving) forward.”
A copy of that stat sheets hangs on the wall of his dorm room and not a day goes by that the Texas freshman guard doesn’t glance at the numbers, especially the “7” in the minutes column.
Spring ahead to Jones’ first college season, which also happens to be the most-challenging season of Shaka Smart’s coaching career.
The wins have been hard to come by, but Smart has critical building blocks in post Jarrett Allen (if he doesn’t turn pro next season) and the 6-foot-4 Jones, a high flyer who has emerged as the best playmaking guard in a program that’s eagerly awaiting the arrival of prep All-American Matt Coleman next season. Jones has averaged 10.9 points in 24.2 minutes and is the Horns’ active leader in three-pointers with 27.
Just ask the Oklahoma Sooners, who were on the business end of the “SportsCenter” highlights on Monday, when Jones, a combo guard with pogo sticks for legs, beat the buzzer with a 25-foot rainbow triple to give the Longhorns a much-needed conference win. He scored in double digits for the fourth straight game and didn’t shy away from the big moments.
Surely Shaka has figured out by now that it’s time to sit the struggling Jacob Young and insert Jones, who has started 12 of the Horns’ 20 games. Texas can only improve with him as a permanent fixture in the starting lineup at point guard where he is a much better option than the more experienced Kerwin Roach, who appears more comfortable on the wing.
Jones still must take better care of the ball — he has 43 turnovers and 54 assists — but he is growing into the position. He reminds Smart of longtime Texas nemesis Monte Morris, a take-no-prisoners two-guard from Iowa State who bounced the Horns from of the 2015 Big 12 Tournament, sinking a fadeaway jumper at the buzzer. Texas needs that type of swagger, especially in a thin lineup that’s missing twice-suspended leading scorer Tevin Mack, who may have played his last game in the 512.
“I think (Jones) is playing with the most confidence of anyone on our team,” Smart said. “Andrew is very aggressive. He knows he’s good. He’s put in a lot of work. I think he feels good about the progress he’s made and how much better he’s gotten.”
Jones already has overcome personal tragedies in his life. He and his sister Alexis, who plays for Baylor, were passengers during a 2007 auto accident that paralyzed their dad, David, who was driving when the vehicle hit a patch of black ice and flipped three times. That experience forced both youngsters to grow up faster than most kids their age.
So getting the short end of the minutes in an all-star game is cake by comparison. After speaking with Smart following the disappointment in Chicago, Jones scored 17 points in 16 minutes at the Jordan Brand Classic two weeks later in Brooklyn.
“He has been the underdog his entire playing career, even with all the accolades that have come his way,” said Jones’ high school coach, Mario Martin. “When he came to high school, he was undersized at 5-8 so he had to scrap and work hard to improve. It all stems from his home situation with his dad’s accident. He doesn’t handle the challenges with a vendetta, but with the understanding that he wants to be better.”
So do the Horns. They sit at 8-12 entering Saturday’s game at Georgia, and Jones and Co. are in no position to let up if they are to keep alive their dream of playing in an NCAA Tournament.
The odds aren’t great, but Jones will have a say in the matter. After all, he has a pretty good history of beating the odds.