When Tre Jones’ right shoulder crashed into Syracuse’s Frank Howard last Monday night while both pursued a loose ball, the resulting scene put No. 1 Duke’s national title hopes in doubt.
Jones suffered a separated shoulder that left him prone on Cameron Indoor Stadium’s court, writhing in severe pain. Duke announced he would be sidelined indefinitely.
“You could see excruciating pain on his face,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who rushed to Jones’ side along with team trainer Jose Fonseca. “We just tried to calm him, not that he was yelling or anything, but he felt that something could be broken. That’s how much pain he was in.”
Though preparing to face No. 2-ranked Virginia on Saturday without him, Duke’s staff is confident his return could come quicker than many who witnessed the injury initially thought.
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Jones’ shoulder responded well to treatment in the first 48 hours since it was injured. Rather than missing a significant portion of the season, as appeared was possible due to his expressions of pain before leaving the court Monday night, Jones has yet to ruled out of Saturday’s game with Virginia.
Seeing him on the court against the Cavaliers remains unlikely, but his status is being monitored on a day-to-day basis rather than shelving him for an extended period.
“Obviously, it’s great news for us that Tre hopefully won’t be out as long as we may have feared,” Duke junior forward Javin DeLaurier said Thursday after practice..
Acromioclavicular (AC) joint separations, the injury Jones suffered, range from grade 1 to grade 6 in severity. According to information provided online by orthopedists at the Colorado-based Steadman Clinic, the majority of such injuries are grade 1 in nature.
Recovery time for AC joint separations range from a few days to 12 weeks. Jones appears to fall in the lower end of that scale, suggesting a mild injury.
Having already earned a reputation around the program for his toughness, Jones’ teammates aren’t surprised that he could be back soon. Even in the postgame locker room on Monday, less than two hours after the injury occurred, RJ Barrett predicted a rapid recovery.
“He’ll be good,” Barrett said. “I have faith in my guy Tre. He’s got our back. No matter what it is, he’ll be back. He’ll be playing for us again.”
Jones quickly earned Krzyzewski’s trust with his defensive ability, as well his knack for creating great shots for the Blue Devils while protecting the basketball. He’s called Jones a “godsend” and backed that talk up by playing him 29.3 minutes per game. Only Barrett (32 minutes per game) has played more.
Jones played all 40 minutes when Duke won at Florida State 80-78 last Saturday. He played 39 minutes each in Duke’s games against ranked foes Texas Tech, Gonzaga and Auburn.
Barrett and Zion Williamson combined for 58 points while playing all but one minute in the 95-91 overtime loss against Syracuse. They will be asked to do more no matter how long Jones is out.
“There’s a burden placed on he and Zion in that situation because they know they have to carry more,” Krzyzewski said. “The fact that they tried to do that, I like that. We weren’t successful enough to win, but the fact that they stepped forward and put it on the line, yeah, I love that. I love that they did that.”
Jack White, one of Duke’s captains along with DeLaurier, said the team is confident Barrett can help run the offense, if needed, for as long as Jones is out.
“RJ does a great job of running the show for us,” White said Thursday. “He's had experience doing that before, especially in Canada. Even today in practice he did a really great job of being poised, being strong with the ball and being more of a leader. He knows all of us on this team have the utmost confidence in him to do that job well.”