Jarred Jones feels great -- or as good as he could hope three months into the grind of basketball season. You just wouldn't know it from the way the Loyola men's basketball swingman shuffles around Reitz Arena most days.
"He's an old man," head coach G.G. Smith said. "We joke with him all the time like, ‘Man, Jarred, what's it going to be like when you're 50?'"
Staying healthy is at the top of Jones' list of goals for his fifth year at Loyola. Coming off two injury-shortened seasons, the John Carroll School (Bel Air, Md.) graduate knew he had to stay on the court if he wanted to accomplish the rest of his goals.
Jones can still be the sparkplug eager to dive for a loose ball or stand his ground fearlessly to draw a charge. It just takes a lot more preparation behind the scenes now.
Thanks to a meticulous routine, Jones, 6-foot-6, 205 pounds, has shaken off his aches and pains to put together the best season of his career. He was averaging 14.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game through Feb. 6, helping Loyola eclipse its win total from last season. The Greyhounds -- at 13-10 overall, 7-5 in conference play -- are firmly in the middle of the Patriot League pack, heading down the closing stretch.
"Some days are better than others, but I feel like, overall, this is probably the best I've felt at this time of the year," the 23-year-old Jones said. "Probably the last couple of years I was wearing down a little bit as the season was going. This year, I feel like I've maintained it."
In previous seasons, Jones has had aches and injuries that included his back, wrist and knee.
Jones bridges past and future at Loyola. The lone holdover from the Jimmy Patsos era provides an example for the current group, which features six freshmen.
He wanted that job coming off last year's disappointment. The veteran-laden Greyhounds lost 10 of their first 11 games and scuffled to a 9-21 finish that dropped their record in three seasons under Smith to 31-59.
Jones was awarded a fifth season after playing two games in 2014-15 due to injury. With a communications degree in hand, he could've been immediately eligible elsewhere as a graduate transfer. He surely would've found suitors on the college hoops free-agent market, if he let it get that far.
"I knew what I was focused on," Jones said. "I feel like when people do grad transfers, they're taking the easy way out and trying to find somewhere they don't have to work as hard. I feel like, here, I had to step my game up to another level and be a leader and do a lot more for the team."
In 2013, Jones had put his signature on a letter to the administration, pushing for Smith to be promoted to replace Patsos. His decision to stick around affirmed his belief in the coach's vision for building the program.
"I think he was looking at the big picture," Smith said. "He's a smart kid. He understands that you can't have everything right away. It's been a marathon and not a sprint, and he's been a big part of the process."
To write a fitting final act, Jones had to get, and stay, healthy.
His injury troubles seem like bad luck, as much as anything. He tried to play through a sore wrist in 2014 but ended up hurting his knee, too. Doctors didn't realize his wrist was broken until he was rehabbing the second injury.
Last season, Jones returned at full strength to average 13.3 points through 26 games before a back issue forced him to miss the final three weeks.
Add in a torn ACL and a shin stress fracture in high school, and it's easy to understand why Jones walks like someone ready to sign up for AARP.
"I always just stayed the course," said Jones, whose sisters Brionna and Stephanie play at Maryland. "I feel like if you stay the course, eventually it'll work out for you."
Smith wanted a better plan this time around to limit the wear and tear. That's where Loyola's new director of sports performance John Hoffman stepped in.
Now, Jones is in the training room every day. He starts his stretching long before everybody else shows up for practice and heads to the cold tub for a soak after each session. He mixes in a couple of massages a week and some muscle stimulation therapy, too.
"Back, legs, thighs, shoulders, core -- everything," Jones said. "I don't want to miss anything because anything can happen."
Smith did his part by limiting Jones to 30 minutes or less during the nonconference slate. Since Patriot League play began Dec. 30, the coach has focused on reducing his practice load.
Jones will often go no-contact on Mondays and sit out Thursdays entirely. It helps this group has more than enough depth to have a competitive workout without him.
"So far, so good," Smith said with a knock on his desk for good measure.
Indeed, Jones has helped guide Loyola's turnaround, along with dynamic junior point guard Andre Walker and much-improved junior forward Cam Gregory.
These Greyhounds have excelled in close games, reversing a frustrating trend from last season. They've got a shot at a top-six seed and opening-round bye in the Patriot League Tournament.
Despite his injury history, Jones can still fill the stat sheet. He may not dunk much these days, but he leads Loyola in blocks, and ranks second in points, steals, rebounds and assists. He's a useful piece defensively with enough length and quickness to guard almost anybody in the conference.
With an elbow jumper early during a win at Lafayette Jan. 28, Jones reached 1,000 career points. He joined forward Erik Etherly as the only Greyhounds with that many points, plus 500 rebounds, 100 assists, 100 steals and 100 blocks.
"That's a lot of working right there," Jones said with a chuckle. "That's probably why my body's so broken down."