INDIANAPOLIS — When the Michigan men’s basketball team’s name flashed across the screen on Selection Sunday, it was a moment of excitement and relief for the entire team. After a rocky season, the Wolverines got their invite to the Big Dance.
That moment, though, meant something even more for graduate-transfer guard DeVante’ Jones.
After five long years, Jones was set to make his first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s crazy,” Jones said after the selection show. “Just being through what I’ve been through while I’ve been in college, never having a chance to even participate in a Selection Sunday, now us getting an 11 seed.”
But that moment of excitement was abruptly met with a harrowing setback. Jones suffered a concussion in practice early in the week, ruling him out for Thursday’s game against Colorado State.
Jones would have to wait, and hope, to finally be able to lace up his dancing shoes.
Jones, a graduate transfer from Coastal Carolina, was never able to get it done with the Chanticleers as a member of the Sun Belt conference. By transferring to a program like Michigan, especially with the team’s lofty preseason expectations, Jones had an expectation to make the tournament — at minimum.
But the season didn’t play out as he, or anyone else, expected it to. It was filled with bumps and turns in the road, knocking the Wolverines off track and down a path in the opposite direction of Jones’s dreams.
“We’ve been through so much all year,” Jones said Sunday. “(Michigan coach Juwan Howard) couldn’t coach us for five games. We played games without Hunter, Moussa, (Terrance Williams II).”
While Michigan waited with baited breath for its name to be called Sunday night, Jones was as tense as anyone. When it appeared on the screen, the emotions — built up over four years of missing the mark — finally set in.
“I was telling Frankie just a minute ago, I’m gonna try not to cry,” Jones said immediately after the selection show. “Because I feel like when I get home I might cry. As a kid, this is something you pray about.”
But Jones’s untimely injury made an NCAA Tournament appearance uncertain once again.
Fortunately for him, his Michigan teammates did what they needed to against the Rams to give Jones the chance to return, something they had in the back of their mind during the Round of 64 matchup.
Early Friday morning, reports surfaced that Jones was with the team and practicing.
“DeVante’ was present today for our morning practice,” Howard said Friday. “He got out there and got a little lather. He’s a game time decision, so I’ll be on my knees praying tonight. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go for tomorrow.”
Now, against No. 3 seed Tennessee, the Wolverines’ starting point guard will be back in action, running the offense in his first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Both Jones’s and Howard’s prayers were answered.
The uncertainty, the setback, the inability to make it to the NCAA Tournament in his previous four years. All of it played into what the invite to the Big Dance means to Jones.
And it’s not something that he’s just going to let slip away.
“I gave everything I had and I always fell short,” Jones said Sunday. “The ability to play in March Madness, that’s something everybody can’t do. I’m gonna take it seriously and take advantage.”