January 28. Ole Miss, the No. 16 team in the country at the time, was hosting Kentucky, its perfect 6-0 Southeastern Conference record on the line. The Rebels lost, and the final score, 87-74, wasn’t all that close.
When Jones looks back, however, he doesn’t think so much about the loss, but his season-ending injury - an ACL tear to his right knee.
Jones, who was the primary backup to departed seniors Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner, had collapsed to the floor midway through the game. All in a jam-packed Tad Smith Coliseum knew the injury was serious. His head coach, Andy Kennedy, feared the worst in his postgame press conference. A day later, the worst was realized.
Surgery soon followed.
These days, nearly five months later, he’s on the road to recovery. He admitted there are plenty of times when wants to give up. Team trainer Clarke Holter won’t let him. “I’m just pushing every day,” he said, with his sights set on an August return.
“To be honest, it don’t feel like four and half months went by,” Jones said. “It feels like (the injury) just happened two weeks ago. I don’t feel no pain, I’m just scared it might get bad again.
“Clarke tells me I can trust it, but it’s my body. I’m kind of scared of it now, still, even though it’s stronger than my left knee. Clarke just tells me he’s not going to let me do nothing I can’t do. That kind of helps me out a little bit, but it’s still the ACL, so I’m still kind of nervous about it.”
Much has changed for Ole Miss basketball since Jones suffered the first major injury of his career. The Rebels are coming off an NCAA tournament appearance, the first for the program since 2002. Gone are senior leaders Nick Williams, Holloway and Buckner.
Holloway and Buckner ended their respective careers as two of the most accomplished players in Ole Miss history - Holloway as Ole Miss’ all-time leading rebounder, as well as the 21st player in SEC history with at least 1,400 points and 1,000 rebounds, and Buckner as Ole Miss’ all-time leader in blocked shots.
“We’ve got to pick up and keep going,” Jones said. “Since we went to the NCAA tournament, I feel like we’ve got to make it even further. We’re expected to go now. I want to experience that myself.
“Now, I’m one of the leaders. I’m just going to work real, real hard so I can fill the roles of Murph and Reggie. You had Murph as the leading rebounder and Reg as the leading shot-blocker. I’m going to have to do one or the other, or maybe both. It’s going to be real hard, but it’s a challenge I can take on.”
First, though, he has to get his knee right.
Jones was averaging just 3.5 points per game at the time of the injury, but his real value was on the defensive end and in his ability to rebound. On average, Jones was hauling in 4.1 rebounds each game, and his 32 blocks ranked only behind Buckner.
He’s currently working in a knee brace, which he isn’t used to. He said he’ll adapt. He has to.
“When I go on the court, I don’t think about it,” Jones said. “I used to think about it when I walk, but now I just don’t think about it. When I walk, it feels normal now. But when I run, I still run like a little deer. It feels better, I just can’t jump off of it.
“It’s all about me putting in time and work in the gym again, like I did last year. More time now, since I’ve got to adapt to my knee. I’m just going to work harder.”
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Jones won’t have to carry the burden of replacing Holloway and Buckner alone. Veteran Demarco Cox is on the comeback trail as well, and is expected to make a full recover from a foot injury that sidelined him for all but seven games last season.
Ole Miss is experienced in its back court with the return of senior Marshall Henderson, who led the SEC in scoring last season, and junior guards Jarvis Summers and Ladarius “Snoop” White, each of whom appeared in at least 34 games a year ago.
“We’re going to have a lot of momentum on our shoulders,” Jones said. “We’ve got Marshall coming back, leading SEC scorer, and you’ve got Jarvis. Jarvis said he didn’t play to his potential (last year). You’ve got Derrick (Millinghaus), who showed out in the (SEC) tournament last year. You’ve got Snoop coming back. There’s a lot of momentum. We’ve got a lot of experience and we’ve got some newcomers.
“We should do great.”
Same goes for Jones, new knee and all.