Basketball

Andrew Jones has struggled early, but Shaka Smart wants him to keep shooting, attacking

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Prior to the season, Texas head coach Shaka Smart fielded a question he fields every year: got anybody who can shoot? One player came to mind for the head coach entering his sixth season in Austin in Andrew Jones.

“He needs to shoot as much as he possibly can,” Smart said in November.

Jones is one of the team’s most prolific shooters from outside. Despite missing the season opener, Jones is second in three-point attempts with 24, three behind senior Matt Coleman.

Problem is, he has only made five of those shots for a 21% mark from behind the arc. His struggles from deep have impacted other aspects of his game, too. In the last two games, Jones is 3-of-17 from the field including a 2-for-10 performance Sunday during Texas’ loss to Villanova.

“I believe in Andrew Jones,” Smart said Tuesday. “He’s a player that has done a lot of great things here at the University of Texas. He’s a player that’s been through more than any of us here at the University of Texas. If there’s ever a guy that you say he’s going to be fine as long as he keeps shooting and keeps attacking, it’s Andrew.”

Jones’ 10 attempts were in 23 minutes of game time, but those 23 minutes were mostly in the early portions of the game. He sat from the 12:24 mark in the second half to when there were 15 seconds remaining in the game and was substituted for just eight seconds later.

The only reason he returned in the first place was because junior Courtney Ramey committed his fourth and fifth fouls in the final 70 seconds of the game. Jones was not part of Smart’s plans in the second half versus the then No. 12 team in the nation.

Smart said post-game conversations with Jones did not center on playing time so much as trying to get Jones out of his early-season funk. Villanova was just the first of several tests upcoming on the Longhorns’ schedule. Texas heads to Waco to face No. 2 Baylor on Sunday. A week later, they welcome Oklahoma State star Cade Cunningham and the rest of the Cowboys to Austin. Then, they head to Lawrence to ring in the new year in Allen Fieldhouse against the Kansas Jayhawks.

Those are games where Texas will need an improved performance from Jones to have a chance.

“When opportunities come up on offense, certainly take them because let’s be honest, for us to be our best we need him to be able to score the basketball,” Smart said. “We need him to be the terrific offensive threat that he can be.”

Jones’ career at Texas has gone through twists and turns unimaginable for most. To fight through it all, return after leukemia and cancer treatment, and become a starting guard at a power conference program continues to be one of the best stories in Longhorn athletics history.

But Jones’ recovery and return to the lineup brought with it the expectations typically saddled upon an experienced starting guard. Shooting 21% from three when the rest of the team is showing 37% is falling short of those expectations. So too is shooting 30% from the field, the lowest mark among the 10 Longhorns who have seen minutes this season.

“He knows when he’s playing really well, and he knows if he’s not playing as well,” Smart said. “He wants to help the team. He wants to be in a good place. My focus is more on just trying to remind him these are the areas where you have a level of control.”

Smart expects all his players to start things on the defensive end of the floor. It’s one of the principles he emphasizes to get his players to “lose themselves in the fight.” The same is true for Jones, and Smart believes once Jones can do so, he will have a greater impact on the offensive end.

Jones needs to do it quickly because he currently appears more lost than lost in the fight.