VALPARAISO — Colton Jones didn't have a typical summer.
Every day, the Valparaiso junior woke up and got to work on his right knee. Jones tore his ACL in his first AAU practice after the high school season in March, and he wanted more than anything to get back for the next high school season.
He had multiple different schedules and a list of exercises taped above his bed. Just 8 1/2 months after the injury, Jones is fully healthy and ready to start in the Vikings' back court.
“I was really scared, especially about missing next season,” Jones said. “Even then, I knew that if I could come back around for next season, I needed to be prepared and ready to go.”
Jones slid backward in a pickup game trying to deflect a backdoor pass when he hurt his knee. He already tore the ACL in his left knee entering his eighth-grade season, but he didn't know right away that he had done it again.
A study by Jeff Stotts of instreetclothes.com showed NBA players who had torn an ACL missed an average of 327 days — just under 11 months — as of 2014. Jones sought out the surgeon who did his first surgery: Dr. Brian Cole, the Bulls and White Sox team physician.
Jones' prior experience with a torn ACL helped him push through the pain during rehab and trust his trainers' judgment as he tested and strengthened his knee.
“I was rehabbing twice a week and I was making sure every little detail they told me, I took care of,” Jones said. “They push you while you're there, but they tell you you've gotta do stuff on your own. … I made sure I was doing everything every day.”
During the first week, Jones could only do leg lifts and muscle contractions with his knee locked after surgery. He progressed to exercises like calf raises and started cutting and jumping two months ago.
Cole cleared Jones for basketball two weeks ago, and Valparaiso coach Barak Coolman said he can't tell any difference from the spring.
“Colton is such a competitive warrior and just a tough kid,” Coolman said. “Right now, he looks like the normal Colton that we had last year. I think he gets a little winded, but besides that, we're all not in great shape at this point of the year.”
Jones is the Vikings' top returning scorer at 5.3 points per game. He could play some at the point but said he expects to spend most of his time at shooting guard.
Valparaiso lost wing scorers Brandon Newman and Nate Aerts to graduation — the pair combined to average 39 points per game last year.
Coolman said Jones played a different role than he's built for the last two years as an off-ball guy on offense who was focused on defending. This year, he'll get the ball in his hands.
“He has the point guard skills but has been able to score,” Coolman said. “Now, we kind of look to him to do some of the scoring but handle the ball in crunch time too.”
Jones scored just three points against Chesterton in the Class 4A Portage Sectional final, when the Trojans famously slowed the game down and won 35-30. It was a crushing loss for the Vikings, and Jones said it has motivated the whole team.
Up to 6-foot-2 and between 180 and 185 pounds, Jones said he's ready to lead Valparaiso and produce against the most physical Duneland Athletic Conference athletes. He wants to make amends for last year's disappointing finish.
“To come around and lose in the sectional championship is brutal,” Jones said. “We look across there, we see those guys, we know what happened last year. It's gonna mean more than anything to beat them in sectionals and the DAC.”