January 26, 2008 in Sports

New lease on life: Heart surgery doesn’t stop Josh Jones

Eric Olson Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. – “Sweet Jones” and “Sky’s the Limit.” The words tattooed on Josh Jones’ right arm say it all about his considerable basketball talents.

His left arm reveals his newfound serious side. “Messiah,” it says, under a tribute to his deceased father, “Big John.”

With his deft shooting touch from the perimeter and slashing moves to the basket, Josh Jones may be the best high school player in Nebraska. He made an oral commitment to Creighton as a junior last year. Everything in his life seemed to come easy, he said.

Then came Labor Day weekend. He hadn’t been feeling well for weeks. After two trips to the emergency room, doctors told him he had something wrong with his heart. A bacterial infection – infective endocarditis – was damaging his aortic valve. Open-heart surgery was the only option.

“I cried,” Jones said. “I never went through any type of surgery. I was laying in bed and I had no ability to walk. My confidence was gone. I didn’t think about basketball anymore.”

Left untreated much longer, Jones could have died, his surgeon said.

On Sept. 9, Jones underwent a 5 1/2 -hour procedure to replace his bacteria-ravaged valve with one formed from cow tissue.

Four months later, Jones is the leading scorer for a Central team bidding for its third straight state championship in the large-school class. Jones made 10 3-pointers and scored a career-high 41 points last week against Bellevue East, but he said he still doesn’t feel like his old self.

He is, however, playing with no pressure because Creighton coach Dana Altman promised to honor his scholarship offer. Altman told him so at the hospital, just hours after he was out of surgery.

“He committed to us in good faith, so we were going to stick with him regardless of what the outcome was with his heart surgery,” Altman said.

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