Shawndale Jones never suffered a serious injury from his time playing youth sports well into his senior season as a member of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s men’s basketball team.
That all changed Dec. 4, 2021.
Jones’ ACL and the posterolateral corner of his knee were torn in a game against West Chester.
“They said it was definitely different than what they ever had,” Jones recalled of his doctors’ diagnosis. “It definitely was. First couple weeks, I was basically almost bedridden being with my family. I barely could get up and move or things of that nature.
“I’d never missed out on any games because of injury,” he added, “so this was definitely a new experience for me.”
Now back on the court as a graduate student, Jones is hoping to lead IUP to a new experience.
The 6-foot-3 guard is averaging 20.2 points per game — which leads the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference and is 29th in the country — and has the Crimson Hawks ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II and poised for a chance to contend for the university’s first national championship.
“I believe that our team believes that we can do it,” said Jones of IUP (11-0, 5-0 PSAC) winning a national title. “We know how much work we put in and how much it means to us and how much it means to the school being that we’ve never won a national championship. That’s our longer-term goal, but our day-to-day goal is to get better every day.”
For much of the past year that certainly was true of Jones as well. He said his rehabilitation took nearly eight months and culminated with him rejoining his team without any restrictions about one week before IUP’s first regular-season game.
“I wouldn’t say he’s at 100% right now,” IUP coach Joe Lombardi said. “You’ve got to be careful about not overdoing that. You’re in the crosshairs a little bit. You want to go really hard to get in shape and get to 100% and yet you’ve got to be concerned about doing that and overaggravating that knee or some other part.”
Jones, who played two years at North Hills before enrolling at Kiski Prep, played in only seven games before his 2021-22 season at IUP was derailed by injury. Before that, his most meaningful playing time came when he was the Crimson Hawks’ sixth man in 2019-20.
Lombardi said he knew he had a special player in his midst around that time.
“Really, going back four years ago, he was the sixth man on our PSAC championship team,” recalled Lombardi of Jones, who was named the PSAC tournament MVP for his strong play off the IUP bench. “I don’t think too many sixth men have done that in any tournament.”
In addition to his scoring output, Jones is averaging 4.9 rebounds per game and has accrued 17 steals this season. He is the only PSAC player to be averaging more than 20 points per game, and is first in the conference and eighth nationally with a .937 shooting percentage from the free-throw line.
“I think a lot of our offense is built around him and Dave Morris,” Lombardi said. “His role on this team this year is to be a scorer for us. We need him to score in the high teens on a consistent basis.
“He plays with great enthusiasm,” the coach added. “He loves the game. He loves his teammates, and he’s done a great job of leading this year.”
Jones also has done a great job of getting his teammates involved in IUP’s offense, Lombardi said.
Morris is averaging 16.9 points per game, while Tomiwa Sulaiman has added 11.7 points per game, and Ethan Porterfield has chipped in 11.3.
“I want him, like all of our guys, to keep improving, to get to build better habits on both ends of the floor,” Lombardi said of Jones. “He’s starting to play better on the defensive end.
“I want him to continue to keep learning and growing about how he can be better individually and how he can help our team become better as a team,” the coach added. “There’s so much growth to be had between now and March, and that’s something that as a coach you need to continue to stress with all the players.”
Lombardi said Jones will be a partner in that process.
“Being a guy that has a lot of experience, he’s coaching the other guys,” the coach said. “He’s really good at lifting guys up if they seem discouraged or down. He’s constantly picking guys up like that. He brings a great voice of enthusiasm to the practice floor, so I think in those ways he’s exceptional.”
With critical PSAC games left in his final collegiate campaign, Jones is looking forward to leading his team.
“I feel great about the No. 1 ranking,” said Jones, whose brother, Meleek Thomas, is a sophomore at Lincoln Park and one of the highest-ranked high school recruits in the country. “I feel like every person on our team, we are such a family, and we are so invested in each other and invested in the process.
“When it comes to us having a target on our back, we don’t look at it like that,” he added “We don’t take any opponent lightly.”