Leistikow: Patience, anger fuel Dale Jones' Hawkeye return

Chad Leistikow

Dale Jones has played in six career Division I basketball games, yet the fifth-year senior will be one of two players representing Iowa at the Big Ten Conference’s media day Thursday in Washington, D.C.

“That’s one of the perks of being one of the old guys,” Jones jokes. “I’m excited to go down there and see what it’s all about.”

Seventh-year Hawkeye coach Fran McCaffery could’ve picked more proven players in redshirt sophomore Nicholas Baer or junior Dom Uhl to join star senior Peter Jok in the nation's capital.

Or, he could’ve followed Michigan State’s lead and brought a true freshman with a lot of hype, in Tyler Cook. (Tom Izzo is bringing freshman phenom Miles Bridges.)

But frankly, given what Jones has been through, McCaffery made the right choice.

“Very proud,” McCaffery says, “of everything that he's done.”

Iowa forward Dale Jones is entering his fifth season of college basketball but has missed nearly all of two years with multiple ACL tears. He averaged 5.5 points and three rebounds a game for the Hawkeyes in six early-season games a year ago.

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Jones certainly has a heartbreaking yet inspiring story to tell.

After his first year of junior college in Tyler, Texas, the Waterloo native tore the ACL in his right knee. He came back to the Cedar Valley for surgery, and everything seemed OK.

He was a productive outside shooter (16.9 points a game, 45-percent 3-point accuracy) and rebounder (8.3 a game) as a redshirt sophomore at Tyler, enough to earn a scholarship offer from McCaffery. He signed with Iowa.

But just as Jones’ Hawkeye career was taking off — 33 points and 18 rebounds in six off-the-bench appearances for a veteran team — the ACL buckled again during a Dec. 1 practice. Same knee.

A subsequent second operation revealed that Jones' first knee surgery was completely botched, making him vulnerable to a second tear.

“Horrible,” Jones says. “Screws in there that didn’t need to be there. It was bad.”

This time, Dr. Brian Wolf performed the surgery at the UI, and Jones has since been on a steady recovery.

It hasn’t been an easy 10 months, that’s for sure.

First, Jones felt like his big frame (currently 6-foot-7, 227 pounds) and deep shooting ability could’ve helped last year’s team avoid a late-season slide.

“As we struggled a little bit offensively down the stretch,” McCaffery says, “that was the guy that we looked at and said, you know, if he was here, he'd go get 25.”

Secondly, Jones felt detached at times while on the sidelines. One of his lonely exercises during rehab was attempting to jog up and down every concrete step at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Eventually, he could complete the whole circuit: 30 sections, 43 rows.

“The hardest part for any injury is being patient,” Jones says, “and understanding what it is.”

Jones drew inspiration from watching videos of Shaun Livingston, who in 2007 suffered one of the most gruesome knee injuries in NBA history. It was so bad that Livingston was close to having his left leg amputated.

But Livingston fought back, and in 2015 as Steph Curry's backup won a title with the Golden State Warriors. Jones watched how Livingston recovered to be able to cut, jump and dunk at basketball's highest level.

“The way he plays now, it’s amazing,” Jones says. “That was my biggest motivation going through this process. A lot of people counted me out.”

Iowa coaches are counting him in for their 2016-17 plans.

“You always have spots for great shooters,” assistant coach Kirk Speraw says.

Jones is working his way back into full participation in workouts, but he doesn’t want to rush it, especially after what happened before.

“I’m not Adrian Peterson,” Jones says of the elite NFL running back who set the standard for ACL recoveries with a nine-month return. “I’m not ready to come out here and run over everybody.”

McCaffery expects Jones to get some minutes in the Nov. 4 exhibition against Regis University. It’ll be a gradual process to see how Jones responds. Conditioning will be a challenge, but maybe he eventually fits in perfectly as an 8- to 10-minute, instant-offense guy.

Jones is listed as a senior on Iowa’s roster, but he’s got another year of eligibility after this if he wants it. He received offseason word that his medical-hardship waiver for a sixth year was approved.

Jones says he’d consider going elsewhere as a graduate-transfer — or perhaps turn pro — after the season. But that's a long way off.

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For now, he's focused on being ready to contribute in late-November games against Seton Hall and Virginia.

“I just need to get right,” Jones says, “and play the way I want to play. Which is angry.”

If you’re in attendance when Jones plays his first game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena since Nov. 15, stand up and cheer.

His perseverance alone is worth applauding.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.

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Coaches from all 14 teams, plus the 30 players below will gather Thursday in Washington, D.C., the location of this year’s Big Ten Tournament (March 8-12). The news conferences will be carried from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Central on Big Ten Network. 

ILLINOIS: G Tracy Abrams, sr.; G Malcolm Hill, sr.

INDIANA: G James Blackmon Jr., jr.; C Thomas Bryant, soph.

IOWA: F Dale Jones, sr.; G Peter Jok, sr.

MARYLAND: F Damonte Dodd, sr.; G Melo Trimble, jr.

MICHIGAN: F Zak Irvin, sr.; G Derrick Walton Jr., sr.

MICHIGAN STATE: F Miles Bridges, frosh.; G Eron Harris, sr.; G Tum Tum Nairn, jr.

MINNESOTA: G Nate Mason, jr.; F Jordan Murphy, soph.

NEBRASKA: G Tai Webster, sr.

NORTHWESTERN: G/F Sanjay Lumpkin, sr.; G Bryant McIntosh, jr.

OHIO STATE: F Keita Bates-Diop, jr.; F Jae’Sean Tate, jr.

PENN STATE: F Payton Banks, jr.; G Shep Garner, jr.

PURDUE: F Vincent Edwards, jr.; C Isaac Haas, jr.; F Caleb Swanigan, soph.

RUTGERS: G Corey Sanders, soph.; G Mike Williams, jr.

WISCONSIN: F Nigel Hayes, sr.; G Bronson Koenig, sr.; G Zak Showalter, sr.