TUSCALOOSA — Less than two weeks after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured left wrist, Alabama junior wing Herb Jones was back on the court.
“That’s a warrior. To play with one hand, to do what he did in seven minutes, not many people in the world can do that, so my hat’s off to him," sophomore guard Kira Lewis Jr. said after Wednesday’s 95-91 overtime loss at Auburn. "We needed him, he made big-time plays, had big-time rebounds. They tried to iso him to win the game going into overtime and they shot an air ball. That basically described him in one play — a true warrior and a great defender.”
Jones sustained the injury in a 90-76 loss at LSU, but continued to play through what he told teammates at the time was a broken left hand. He underwent surgery the morning of Alabama's Feb. 1 game against Arkansas.
And while he's still unable to practice fully, Jones is back in action while wearing a bulky, black cast around his left wrist. The cast he wore Wednesday is the heaviest of three versions available to him and is more of a heavy wrap around a protective splint that secures his wrist and limits its range of movement, which restricts what he can do with his left hand.
Because of the wrap, dribbling and shooting are out of the question, and he isn’t expected to do much more offensively for another week while he continues to rehab.
Jones’ presence Wednesday night and moving forward was more than just an emotional lift for the struggling Crimson Tide, which has lost four of five games.
“We’ll use him when we can and hopefully it’ll continue to get better and better and he can do a little bit more, a little bit more,” Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. “Make layups, catch (passes), whatever he can on offense would be an added bonus at this point, but defensively we could really use him.”
Jones is expected to play an even bigger role Saturday against No. 25 LSU (18-6, 9-2 SEC), in what is a must-win opportunity if Alabama (13-11, 5-6 SEC) has any chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
“He was plus-13 in seven minutes (against Auburn),” Oats said of Jones. “Shoot, if I can double his minutes against LSU — we needed one more possession (in regulation), and he ended up fouling out (in overtime) but maybe I should’ve played him more possessions in regulation and it wouldn’t have gone to overtime.”
That included pulling down three key rebounds during the final 5 minutes of regulation as Auburn missed its last eight field goal tries.
One of Jones’ defensive boards was quickly parlayed into points as he fed Lewis for a quick transition 3-pointer to pull Alabama with 79-78 with 3:58 remaining.
“He just showed that he’s the best defender in the country, a hard-working dude, a team player and a leader,” Lewis said. “He’s a tough dude, he’s played through a lot of injuries since he’s been here, so I wasn’t surprised when he checked in. I knew we were going to get max effort from him, good defense and what he could give us on offense (in the form of) offensive rebounds. I wasn’t surprised by the performance he gave us.”
Jones’ biggest contribution Wednesday, however, was providing an inspiration and physical example of the sort of blue-collar approach that Oats has tried to instill throughout the program.
“There’s no excuse for anybody on the floor to not make winning plays like that, blue-collar plays, because he’s out there in a cast making plays, sacrificing his body for his teammates, so I don’t see why everybody else can’t do that,” Shackelford said. “It sparks something in me. I know I had to go out and take a charge at one point in time. … If Herb can do it (with a cast), we all can do it.”