WEST LONG BRANCH – Deon Jones is a type 1 diabetic and like any type 1 diabetic, he is constantly checking his blood glucose levels.
Even in the middle of practice, Monmouth University's 6-foot-6 redshirt junior guard will remove himself from whatever the team is doing to check his numbers several times. It's a fact of life for Jones and everyone from his teammates, to head coach King Rice, to athletic trainer Vanessa Sweeney and anyone else involved with the men's basketball program have done everything to try and help Jones manage the disease.
For the most part, Jones has his diabetes under control, but that changed recently at the most inopportune time for the Hawks, who are home Wednesday night to take on in-state rival St. Peter's at 7 p.m.
Jones was a non-factor in a blowout loss to St. Francis Brooklyn on Dec. 23, going scoreless in 12 minutes. On Friday, he scored just two points and shot 1-for-8 in 22 minutes in a four-point loss to Quinnipiac. It wasn't revealed until after the two losses that Jones' blood glucose levels spiked and he was forced to sit.
High blood glucose levels aren't something Jones can push through like a sprained ligament. Keeping the numbers in check helps him to literally stay alive, so when they spike, basketball becomes secondary.
"The other day (Friday), I was coming in at 120 (milligrams-per-deciliter), then it was 220 and the next time it was 310, so it just kept rising, which was pretty weird," Jones said Monday night after Monmouth defeated Rider, 55-54. "I just have to keep managing it better and it'll be OK. That won't happen again."
"Coach Rice is always on me about eating better, getting myself right with that because in the long run, it's really going to affect me. Eating better, taking in more fluids and before the game, coming in at a good range is important. The range I come in with my blood sugar is about 120-180."
Rice offered some ribbing Monday night in regards to Jones' diet, but there was a lot of truth to what he was saying. Jones does not have the luxury of getting to eat whatever he wants like his teammates who are also in their late-teens and early-20's. Eating right will help to keep his numbers at an appropriate range and if he can do that, the next time Monmouth is in a tight spot as it was on Friday against Quinnipiac, Jones can be there to help.
While Rice put the responsibility of eating right on Jones, there was also acknowledgment that part of the responsibility falls on those around him in West Long Branch.
"I tell my guys, 'If you see him eating a candy bar, take it.' 'If he wants to eat French fries, he doesn't get to, guys,'" Rice said. "We have to protect him from himself sometimes and it's only because he's a young guy. When I was 20, you couldn't tell me I had to eat right, and do this and do that to be the best basketball player I can be."
"I get frustrated with Deon about it sometimes, but it's more out of love than anything else. We all need to understand what he's dealing and be there to help him as teammates and coaches."
Despite the type 1 diabetes, Jones has played basketball at a higher level than most, garnering Delaware Player of the Year honors as a senior at Sanford School. He was Monmouth's leading scorer last season at 15.1 points per game and is the co-leader this season with Justin Robinson at 11.8 points per game. Between his freshman year at Towson and his one-plus seasons at Monmouth, he has started 79 of his 80 career games, a number that will reach north of 120 by the end of his senior season barring injury or illness.
"When you're 22, you think you're invincible, so it's a hard thing to deal with when you're 22," Rice said. "He's a big, strong, physical kid, a dominant basketball player, so he doesn't think these things are going to hurt him in the way it potentially could. We need to keep teaching him more, we need to learn more about it and we have to work with him."
Staff writer Josh Newman: firstname.lastname@example.org