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IOWA CITY — Star-crossed is probably the best way to describe the basketball career of Iowa senior Dale Jones. The Waterloo native has dealt with multiple ACL tears — one in junior college; the other last year — and this season a broken wrist.
Sunday’s Senior Day, though, was anything but star-crossed for Jones.
Coach Fran McCaffery gave Jones his first career start in just his 11th game played as a Hawkeye, and he responded by hitting the first shot of the game — and his season — with a 3-pointer from the wing in the Hawkeyes’ 90-79 win against Penn State. It was a moment McCaffery said, “was an unbelievable feeling for me to see,” and left teammate and roommate Peter Jok to say, “I wish he would’ve shot more.”
Jones finished with those three points and was 1-of-3 from the field — his final miss with less than a minute to go from “40 feet,” according to McCaffery.
“I think they’re all going in. That’s just me. I have no conscience when I shoot 3s,” Jones said through a wide smile after the game. “It felt good to be out on the floor with those guys. Everybody knows what I’ve been through and stuff like that, so just to get a 3 made in Carver-Hawkeye Arena is a good feeling.
“With what I’ve been through, to be in the starting lineup and hear my name called and hear the crowd erupt, it was a great feeling. It felt like home.”
Jones was honored alongside Jok for Senior Day, and both were fondly embraced by their teammates, coach and fans — but for obviously different reasons.
Jok’s contributions are well-documented. Jones’ have come when basically no one was looking.
McCaffery has talked at length about how Jones has never pouted or become an issue in the locker room during a season in which he’s been relegated to just 15 total minutes of game action. His work with the scout team when he finally got healthy and his vocal leadership in helping all the young players mature as people is what endeared him so much to those around him.
“I got goose bumps for him. He and Pete are like big brothers for us,” freshman Cordell Pemsl said. “Since the first day I moved in in June, he and Pete have been so good at giving us advice on and off the court and showing us how to not only play the right way but live as kids the right way. They’ve never tried to scold us or anything; it’s always been advice and tips. I just wanted to thank him for being a part of my life these past months and that I wish him all the best.”
Leadership can be hard to ask for out of a healthy player, but even harder from one who’s dealing with a third serious injury in less than two years and fourth in less than four.
Jones staying involved in the everyday workings of the team was an example for everyone else on how to handle bad times as an individual and not let them affect the whole.
“I think he’s set the standard for how to deal with injury. I think it’s easy, a lot of times, to be disengaged and not all that focused on what we’re doing as a team,” sophomore Nicholas Baer said. “But he’s there at every meeting, he’s got the scouting reports down. That sets the standard for a lot of guys, if anyone were to ever go down.”
Jones will graduate in May, but has one more year of collegiate eligibility left. While he didn’t say specifically, rather leaving it to “it’s an option,” Jones’ answer to whether or not he would seek a graduate transfer came with a realistic approach.
He knows as well as everyone else that Luka Garza and Jack Nunge are coming next season and play his position. He knows Iowa already has Pemsl, Baer, Tyler Cook, Dom Uhl, Ahmad Wagner and Ryan Kriener on the roster and all will be in line for minutes next season.
No matter what his decision ends up being, Jones made one thing very clear: he’s not done playing basketball.
“I’ve got a lot of basketball left,” Jones said. “(The coaches) have been nothing but great for me. The team has been nothing but great for me.
“If the opportunity presents itself somewhere else where they want me to come in and be an immediate guy for them to score the ball, then that’s something I’m willing to do. It’s not going to stop (Sunday), whether I come back here or go somewhere else. I’m going to ride this out until the doctor tells me I can’t play anymore.”
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