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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

ODU’s Men’s Basketball Coach Is Winning His Fight with Prostate Cancer

By Harry Minium

It was December 2018, and Jeff Jones was at his wit's end. Old Dominion University's men's basketball coach had prostate cancer. Even after surgery and a strong round of radiation, it persisted.

Doctors could not cure it, they said, but could control it with medicine. The meds, Jones said, "were driving me nuts."

He was plagued with fatigue and mood swings and had many sleepless nights. He felt his body getting weaker and his frustration levels getting higher.

He went to his oncologist, Dr. Mark Fleming, and asked for relief.

"I'm not sure, the way things are going, that I'm going to make it through the season," Jones told him.

Fleming agreed to stop the meds, noting they were going to take a break from them in June anyway.

But he warned Jones that his Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) likely would rise, indicating the cancer was growing again.It was, he reminded Jones, a particularly aggressive form of prostate cancer.

What's happened since isn't exactly a miracle, but it's pretty close.

Jones has been tested every three months since, and in 21 months since going off his meds, his PSA hasn't risen an iota.

It's a 0.00, and for a prostate cancer patient, that's the equivalent of scoring 100 points in a game.

Of his PSA number, Jones shrugs when asked what it means to him.

"I don't think any of us would have predicted this, but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth," he said."Other people are making a big deal out of it. I don't know why it doesn't mean as much to me. I feel good. I'm grateful. I guess the treatment I received was effective."

So, question is, did getting off the meds have anything to do with ODU's remarkable second half of the 2018-2019 season?

No telling, but clearly, the Monarchs had one of their most memorable seasons in decades.

After getting off to a poor start, ODU won 21 of 24 games and claimed the Conference USA regular-season crown. Then the Monarchs won the C-USA tournament in thrilling fashion, beating Louisiana Tech, Alabama Birmingham and Western Kentucky by a total of nine points.

Jones buried his head into a towel and cried following the championship game. After choking up again in the postgame press conference, hugged his wife, Danielle, who is his partner, leader, advocate and alter ego in his fight against cancer.

She researched the disease, talked to doctors and sent Jones to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, one of the finest cancer centers in the world.

"I don't know what I would have done without her," Jones said.

Jones says he's happy, and it shows. He has grown a pretty thick beard (it's coming off before the first game at Chartway Arena, he said), and even when he's lecturing players, he's smiling.

He signed five newcomers ready to help this season and already has finished recruiting for 2021-22. It's a talented class that bodes well for ODU.

There is no word on whether men's and women's basketball will join fall sports on the sidelines because of the pandemic. When, where and whom ODU would play remains unknown. Season tickets aren't yet on sale.

But Jones says if this team gets to play, it should be much better than last year's team, which finished 13-19.

Jones is optimistic that basketball will be played, though he does not think it will start until after Thanksgiving. He urges his team to be patient.

"That's what I keep preaching to our players," he said. "We have to continue to be adaptable and flexible. We can't allow ourselves to get too frustrated when there's not an answer forthcoming."

As for his PSA score, he leaves the worrying to his wife, whom friends call Danee.

"I'm not naive, I'm not thinking I'm out of the woods," he said. "We're all aware it can come back. At any time.

"But at the same time, I'm not going to let it control my life. I'm very happy that it hasn't."

Click this link for a longer version of this story on ODU's athletics website.

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