ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla coached at Manhattan, St. John’s and New Mexico. Few know the hoops game as well as he does. And this is his go-to advice for active coaches:
“Your No. 1 job description is not coaching or recruiting, but ‘crisis management.’ You are paid to handle adversity.”
Adversity for coaches typically involves injuries, suspensions, losing streaks and hot seats. Dealing with life-threatening illnesses for star players is not on the syllabus at coaching clinics.
Wednesday afternoon, hours before Texas was to play No. 16 TCU in Austin, the news broke that Longhorns sophomore guard Andrew Jones had been diagnosed with leukemia. There are several types of the disease but that has not been announced. The survival rate of those afflicted by leukemia has improved in recent years and Jones’ age group has, statistically, the best chance of survival.
Still, it was stunning and heart breaking. Jones had entered his name in last spring’s NBA Draft but then returned to school armed with the knowledge of what the pro scouts wanted him to improve. Jones worked hard on his game in the off-season and was UT’s top scorer and 3-point shooter before suffering a broken right wrist in mid-December.
He missed four games but when he was cleared to play, Jones was lethargic in practice and games. A week ago, coach Shaka Smart mentioned that Jones was dragging and that there were tests being run to discover the reason. The flu? Mononucleosis? There was no hint that a student-athlete in his prime could have leukemia.
Smart learned of the diagnosis last Friday. Jones didn’t make the trip to Waco for Saturday’s loss at Baylor and after the game the Longhorns’ coach responded to questions about Jones by deferring to the family’s privacy.
For three days, Smart carried the secret. Tuesday night in the players’ dorm, the coaching staff broke the news to the team. There were tears. There were sobs. There was wailing.
“Andrew’s a guy that holds a very special place in the hearts of all of our players and staff and he’s particularly close with a lot of our guys – especially close,” Smart said. “It was heart-breaking news and you feel helpless. But I had no idea what to expect in the game.”
Junior guard Kerwin Roach II was sidelined with a broken left hand and the Longhorns played just seven against the Horned Frogs. Freshman point guard Matt Coleman played 49 of 50 minutes and posted his first double-double – 17 points and a career-high 12 assists. The 6-2 Coleman played poorly in Saturday’s road loss at Baylor and Smart had counselled him to start playing with joy and passion. “A lot of what went into it was playing for something that was bigger than just myself,” Coleman said.
Trailing by a point, TCU sophomore guard Jaylen Fisher had a chance to win the game in the second overtime but his drive from midcourt to the rim resulted in a layup that rolled off instead of in. Texas equaled its win total of last season with a 99-98 victory. Winning by a single point on a fortunate miss appeared ordained – Jones wears No. 1.
Texas will wear "AJ1" decals in support of Andrew Jones for tonight's game against TCU. pic.twitter.com/I5PTA3YJRl
— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) January 11, 2018
Jones was replaced in the starting lineup by 6-5 freshman Jason Febres, who is also an above-average shooter. But Jones’ absence means UT has an even younger rotation and could be starting three freshmen going forward. The Longhorns have 14 Big 12 teams remaining and has nine games remaining against the teams above them in the standings. The double-overtime defeat of TCU was built largely on the emotion of devoting the game to Jones. Texas plays at Oklahoma State Saturday; the Cowboys are 1-3 and desperately need a victory to avoid sinking deeper in the standings.
On Thursday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference, Smart’s voice was cracking from overuse and emotion.
“We have to remember that Andrew is our primary consideration, but we do have games to play,” he said. “There are emotional ups and downs during every season just based on the results. The emotional swings we had (Wednesday) night are tough to take on a regular basis. We need everyone to do their job going forward. When we don’t have that it’s going to be hard. That’s our reality now.”
West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, he of 1,166 games coached and 835 victories, is in his sixth Big 12 season. He will not be dissuaded from his opinion.
“This is the toughest league I’ve ever been in,” he said. “The reason for that is there is no bottom. There’s no game where you see it on the schedule and say, ‘That’s a win.’”
The Mountaineers rose to No. 2 in the rankings thanks to more carnage than usual around college hoops. West Virginia is undefeated in the United States. At 15-1 overall, WVU’s 15-game winning streak started after it lost its season opener to Texas A&M in Germany.
The Big 12’s 18-game round-robin schedule, though, is a revolving door of challenging games. The Mountaineers escaped a Baylor upset bid Tuesday night. Saturday, they travel to Lubbock to face No. 8 Texas Tech, then fly back to Morgantown to take on No. 12 Kansas in Big Monday. The Jayhawks play at home Saturday against in-state rival Kansas State.
We’ve all heard the derisive cheer when a visiting coach stands to direct his players – “Sit down, bus driver.” Oklahoma State first-year coach Mike Boynton doesn’t drive the team bus, but after Wednesday night’s 86-82 loss at Kansas State dropped the Cowboys to 11-5 overall and 1-3 in the Big 12, Boynton basically threw his players under the bus.
“To be honest, it was a pretty gutless performance by my team,” he said. “I have never been more disappointed than I am today since I became the head coach at Oklahoma State. Our fans deserve better, and they will get better. We played lifeless. You play with a sense of competitiveness and you play with energy because that’s what you do. We didn’t do that today. We’ll get it corrected.”
To be honest, Oklahoma State has performed better this season than most expected. Two of their three losses in league play have come by a total of 10 points and two of their three nonconference losses came to Texas A&M and Wichita State, both ranked teams.
Trae Young vs. history
Each year the scoring champion in college basketball earns that crown because they shoot instead of pass. In the 3-point era (since 1986-87), the Division I top scorer has averaged four or more assists just nine times.
Oklahoma’s 6-2 freshman Trae Young is going where no college basketball player has gone before. One third of the way through the season, he’s leading Division I in scoring at 29.2 points per game and assists 10.1 assists per game. Young would become the second freshman to lead the nation in scoring (Jason Conley of VMI averaged 29.3 per game in 2001-02 and third freshman to lead D-I in assists (T.J. Ford in 2002, Lonzo Ball last season).
The NCAA started making assists an official stat in 1983-84. Before that, the “dime” numbers are spotty. Based on the numbers available here are the top five assist averages for top scorers.
Year Player, school PPG APG
1998 Charles Jones, LIU Brooklyn 29.0 7.4
1960 Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati 33.7 7.3
1970 Pete Maravich, LSU 44.5* 6.2
2009 Steph Curry, Davidson 28.6 5.6
2012 Reggie Hamilton, Oakland 26.2 5.1
*-NCAA single-season record