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Josh Jones: a Creighton Career Retrospective

Wednesday night, Josh Jones made official what many around the Bluejay program have feared: he’s played his final basketball game. In a statement to the Omaha World-Herald, he confirmed that in an attempt to correct the atrial flutter that led to him blacking out before the Nebraska game, he will undergo additional surgical procedures. Those procedures — and the timing of them — leave him little choice but to call it a career.

Statistics can’t summarize what Josh Jones has meant to the Creighton men’s basketball program during the last five years.

From a life threatening heart ailment his senior year in high school to playing for two head coaches and waiting out a redshirt season at CU, Jones has dealt with adversity on and off the court. But no matter the situation, the gregarious local #legend has kept a beaming smile on his face and a sense of humor.

His effort and positive energy don’t show up in box scores, but those qualities have endeared Jones to the Creighton community and Bluejay Nation.

No … No … YES!

“The thing about Josh, when he goes into the game, something’s going to happen,” Greg McDermott joked after the game. “Sometimes it’s going to be good and sometimes it might not be, but something is definitely going to happen.”

That’s Creighton head coach Greg McDermott speaking after CU’s 2012 NCAA Tournament win over Alabama. With the most successful season in Bluejays history on the line, Jones erased a negative play with a game-saving one. With Creighton clinging to a one-point lead and eight seconds to play against the Crimson Tide, Jones missed two free throws. But with time winding down Jones played smothering defense on Alabama’s Trevor Releford as Releford tried to hit a game-winner. Jones masterfully challenged the shot without fouling, Bama missed, and the Bluejays won their first NCAA Tournament game since 2002.

Missed free throws aside, Jones’ effort against Alabama was just one of many individual highlights during his redshirt junior season.

Jones punctuated Creighton’s 2012 Arch Madness title with this dunk against Illinois State (Adam Streur/WBR)

Two weeks before, against Illinois State in the Arch Madness championship game, Jones punctuated Creighton’s win with a steal and a slam to put the Jays up 9 points with less than 90 seconds to play in overtime.

He was on fire the night before, too, during the Valley tournament semifinals against Evansville. Jones dropped 12 points on the Aces during Creighton’s blowout win, making 4 of 5 three-pointers and adding 3 assists and no turnovers in 19 minutes.

He had torched Evansville a few games before that, as well. During Creighton’s 93-92 overtime win against the Aces on Senior Night, Jones came off the bench to score 11 points in 23 minutes. He made multiple critical plays down the stretch, including a traditional three-point play in overtime and the eventual game-winning jump shot with just under 25 seconds to go in OT. He also had 3 steals against the Aces, in a game when neither team seemed interested in playing defense.

Jones scored a season-high 14 points in late January against Bradley, during Creighton’s “Pink Out” game. He followed that with 10 points against Illinois State. A month earlier, in Creighton’s road win at Wichita State, Jones scored all 8 of his points in the second half as the Bluejays came back against the Shockers. And he effectively sealed Creighton’s home win against Northwestern in late December, drilling two three-pointers in the final few minutes of an 8-point CU victory.

The sometimes erratic Jones didn’t commit a turnover in Creighton’s final six games of last season. He finished fourth on the team with 63 assists and turned the ball over just 31 times all year. He made 42% of his threes as a junior, tenth-best in the Valley.

Slow to start, fast to finish

As a junior, Jones was the smiling spark plug off the bench for the best team in school history. But that scenario didn’t seem likely one-third of the way through his sophomore season the year before.

The 2010-2011 season marked Greg McDermott’s first at the helm on the Hilltop. Jones struggled to adjust to Mac’s system, and after starting the team’s first three games Jones went to the bench.

He went 3-15 from the field in those three games, including 0-6 from three-point range. His cold streak from long range would extend to Creighton’s first Valley game, at Illinois State, when Jones finally hit a few three-pointers. Before then, he missed his first 16 three-point attempts of the season and 18 of his first 20.

His minutes dwindled. Jones went from starting those first three games to playing fewer than 10 minutes in five of the next six. The coaches asked him to focus first on defense, and Jones did have some outstanding stretches on that side of the ball; he helped limit All-American Jimmer Fredette to a season-low scoring output in a loss to BYU in early December.

But Jones is a scorer, albeit a streaky one. And he wasn’t scoring for a team that was struggling to put up points. He played just 1 minute in a home loss to Wichita State, his fourth straight game without a point. He was averaging a season-worst 1.8 points per game. Things didn’t look good.

Then the Bradley Braves came to town. Jones went off, matching a career high with 14 points. Here’s what I wrote in “Ott’s Thoughts” following that game:

Jones, a starter back in November who lost his spot due to poor shooting and poorer court awareness, worked his way back to the starting lineup through improved practice habits. Looking for a spark, Greg McDermott gave Jones the nod to open the game against Bradley. And although he missed his first two shots from the floor, Jones kept his smile and his swagger. He subbed out for about 5 minutes of game time early in the half, and when he returned promptly hoisted and hit a 3-pointer. He’d hit two more 3s, and leave to a rousing ovation after scoring 9 points in 3 minutes. After a few more minutes on the bench, Jones checked back in and immediately drilled another long range shot.

Jones finished the half with 12 points in 13 minutes. And although he didn’t record a rebound or any other statistic of note, he aided what turned out be the best half of ball movement the Bluejays put together in 20 games this seasons. The passing was crisp and precise, turning good shots into great shots more than a few times.

Jones would start four of five games in a mid-season stretch for the Jays, playing 23 minutes against the Braves in the Game That Saved His Season and then following with 21 minutes against Missouri State, 28 against Northern Iowa, and a season-high 29 against Indiana State. Jones averaged 10.25 points per game in that four-game stretch, during which the Jays went 2-2 with crushing single-digit road losses at Missouri State (67-66) and Northern Iowa (71-66).

Once February began, Jones started and played 9 minutes in a loss at Bradley. After that, he played 13 or more minutes every game the rest of the season. Perhaps no Bluejay benefited more than Jones from the team’s inclusion and success in the CBI tournament that postseason. He scored a career-high 21 points against Davidson and followed that effort with back-to-back 11-point outbursts against Central Florida and Oregon.

After his slow start to the season, during which he scored 35 points in 18 games (1.9 ppg), Jones totaled 155 points in the season’s final 20 contests (7.75 ppg). After his horrific start from three-point range (10% through 20 attempts), he made 31 of his final 66 attempts, a 47% clip.

A positive development in a disappointing season

Spring 2010 changed Creighton men’s basketball as we know it. A month after the Bluejays wrapped up an 18-16 season with a road loss at Missouri State in the CIT tournament, Altman left the program he resurrected for a job at Oregon. And former Northern Iowa Panthers head coach Greg McDermott was on his way from Iowa State to take over the head coaching job at CU.

Frankly, things were a mess with the men’s basketball program. The talented-but-enigmatic P’Allen Stinnett had played his final game as a Bluejay in late January, months of frustration between Altman and him boiling over thanks to a technical foul Stinnett drew from Curtis Shaw. The Bluejays had squandered preseason hype and a schedule that included games against ranked opponents Dayton, Michigan, and New Mexico as well as tough outs like Xavier and George Mason. The Stinnett-less Jays were limping down the home stretch.

Creighton fans needed a spark, and Jones provided one. He played in just 13 of the team’s first 20 games, scoring a total of 20 points. The night Stinnett took up permanent residence on the bench, Jones played 21 minutes and scored 13 points. It would be the first of four double-digit scoring nights for the redshirt freshman. Near the end of the season, Jones would crack the starting lineup; he began CU’s final 7 games, during which the team went 5-2. He scored 90 points in the final 14 games.

Working his way back

By the end of Jones’ freshman season, Creighton fans were finally getting to see the player so many had remembered as a high school standout.  After scoring 9 points a game as a freshman at Central, Jones took over Eric Behrens’ Eagles and led them to three straight Class A championships. He scored 14.5 points per game as a sophomore, 18 per game as a junior, and nearly 20 per game as a senior.

It was the natural progression for one of the state’s most prolific scorers. He set the Central school record for career points (1,518). But between his junior and senior seasons, Jones underwent open heart surgery to cure a bacterial infection that had struck the 17-year-old star.

Altman reassured Jones that his scholarship would remain on the table, even if Jones wouldn’t be able to play basketball again. He worked his way back and recovered from the surgery, leading Central to that third consecutive championship and claiming All-State honors once again.

Jones’ condition will cut his senior season — and Creighton career — short. His final season started with a bang: with CU facing a 10-point second-half deficit to UAB in the second game of the season, Jones almost single-handedly brought the Bluejays back. From “Ott’s Thoughts”:

A Terrance Jones three-pointer with 17:30 to play in the second half staked the Blazers to a 10-point lead, 45-35. Both teams exchanged missed shots for a few minutes, until Creighton’s Josh Jones drove the lane for a layup to cut CU’s deficit to 8 points with less than 16 minutes to play.

The next 80 seconds of game time featured a burst of energy by Creighton’s Jones. Gregory Echenique erased one of his four blocked shots on the next UAB possession, leading to a rebound and drive by Jones. He’d be fouled and knock down both free throws, and then have the ball in his hands again thanks to a Blazers miss and an Echenique rebound the next time down. Jones connected on the first of two consecutive three-pointers, the second of which sent Haase and UAB into a 30-second timeout.

Jones went on a 10-point personal run, something CU fans are more likely to see from McDermott on a given night than from one of his talented supporting cast. Tied at 45 apiece, the teams exchanged hoops for a few minutes until Jahenns Manigat’s only basket of the night — a three-pointer — gave the Bluejays a 58-55 lead they wouldn’t relinquish the rest of the night. Jones and Grant Gibbs would engineer a 13-2 run following Manigat’s make, turning a close contest on its ear and sending the Jays into the final 5 minutes of the game with a 14-point lead.

All told, Creighton put UAB away with a 22-5 during the final 11 minutes of the game. McDermott scored only 1 point during that stretch.

Jones scored 18 points in 19 minutes, taking the game over for a stretch and picking up the slack on a night when Doug McDermott didn’t play like an All-American.

Until blacking out minutes before Creighton’s game at Nebraska on December 6, Jones was averaging 7 points and more than 2 rebounds a game as one of the Bluejays’ best bench players. As is almost his custom, Jones was starting a bit slower than normal from beyond the arc, having made 32% of his threes.

Jones was able to quickly erase any frustration you felt as a fan by following an unsuccessful play or two with a string of outstanding shots or defensive stops.  And he always rocked a smile while doing so. Far more than his stats and his highlights, that’s what Creighton fans will take from Jones’ playing days — an effervescent, positive attitude that radiated constantly, whether he was on the bench or in the game, whether he was playing well or not.

Check out our photo gallery of Josh Jones (courtesy Adam Streur and Mike Spomer for WBR)

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