The game he loves more than almost anything else might end up killing him. That fact alone would be enough to break Josh Jones’ heart, if it weren’t broken already.
“At the end of the day, I can honestly say to myself, (that) I can leave the game satisfied, knowing that I left it all on the floor,” Creighton’s senior guard told FOXSportsKansasCity.com on Thursday, shortly after announcing the end of his college basketball career as a result of recurring heart issues.
“I don’t have any regrets. I’ve been in every kind of predicament possible, playing at Creighton. I was a starter. I was at the end of the bench. I was first off the bench. I played against Kentucky as a freshman and actually played in a game against North Carolina.
“I won a Missouri Valley Conference tournament. I played for two different coaches. I’ve scored 20 points before. I’ve scored zero points before. … I’ve played in the biggest venues and I’ve been around the best fans and friends. And so I’m satisfied.”
This wasn’t a wake. It was a celebration. After open-heart surgery in 2007, one where his aortic valve was replaced with one formed from cow tissue, Jones didn’t know if he’d even be alive, let alone have enough strength to appear in 108 collegiate games for one of the country’s best mid-major programs.
“I’m lucky. I’m very lucky,” Jones said. “This just doesn’t happen to everybody, every year. For me to persevere through everything I went through, it’s a God thing, man. I’m very lucky.”
Jones helped the Bluejays — currently ranked 16th in the AP poll — reach the mountain top. He helped get them back to the Big Dance, then helped them take out Alabama to break a string of one-and-done NCAA Tournament appearances.
Through it all, he smiled, swaggered and drove coaches — including his own — a little nutty. He ran with the big dogs, stride for stride.
So why the long faces? Why the tears?
“It’s not like I’m quitting or anything,” said Jones, who’d appeared in eight games this season, averaging 7.0 points a contest, before a fainting spell at rival Nebraska on Dec. 6 sent up giant red flags. “I’m forced to do this because my life could potentially be at stake playing at a high level.”
The game is beautiful, but it’s not worth dying over. Jones has beaten the house before, but when it comes to cardiac issues, you don’t shoot for the parlay.
Jones’ collapse during pregame shootarounds in Lincoln was the worst way to end a senior season, let alone one that began with such promise. Although, in hindsight, it might’ve also been the best thing for the 23-year-old’s health.
It was the kind of spell that could’ve happened anywhere, but it happened at a sporting event, surrounded by trainers, with emergency equipment on-site. Subsequent tests revealed an atrial flutter — a heart suddenly beating too fast, too quickly — and a radiofrequency ablation was slated for December 18.
Yet a process that normally takes three hours went for nine instead, another red flag. Jones said doctors told him the situation was potentially more complex than they’d originally thought, and he’d require a follow-up ablation next month. Depending on what that process reveals, the Omaha native could require a permanent defibrillator to help regulate the rhythms of his heart.
“I was just thinking about how precious life is, and that just pushed me more to the decision to just stop,” Jones said. “I always had a backup plan. I knew I was going to have a heart condition. I just didn’t think it was going to happen that early.
“I’ve got a Plan B, that’s probably why it’s easier (to walk away). My Plan B is just as strong as Plan A, in my opinion. That’s me using my (public relations) degree and my character to find success and inspire others.”
Jones hasn’t decided if that means public speaking, mentoring, coaching or something else. He’s also not ruling out basketball forever — just for right now.
In the short term, Jones wants to get a hold of Tulsa center Kodi Maduka, who was forced to make a similar decision over a recurring heart ailment of his own. He has Maduka’s number, passed on from Golden Hurricane coach Danny Manning through Creighton coach Greg McDermott.
“I could’ve died then (in 2007),” Jones said, “and then it’s like … I sit back for a second and I’m like, ‘Man. It makes me believe that, more and more, that I have a purpose.’ Whatever my purpose is, God is keeping me here on Earth. I don’t know what it is.”
But he can’t wait to find out. Most see an end, a chapter closed too soon. Jones sees a new beginning.
“The good news is the prognosis for Josh, long term, is very positive,” McDermott said. “That’s the most important thing.”
Josh Jones has the rest of his life in front of him. And that’s the best news of all.