Rarely has a 17-year-old boy been cold like that.
It was the heat of summer 2007 and one of Nebraska's finest basketball talents was wearing jogging pants to his daily outdoor pickup games.
Josh, what are you doing? Take off the sweats.
But this was no fashion statement. Josh Jones played with his extra layer, dribbling between his legs, rising over hapless defenders to shake the rim, funneling home jump shots the way a thunderstorm floods a crack in the concrete.
Six-foot-two, 200 pounds, best shape of his life. There's a reason Creighton signed Jones to a basketball scholarship.
Just like there's a reason the boy was cold -- and getting colder by the day. Bacteria was seeping into his bloodstream and conducting a full-court press on his heart. He was dying. He just didn't know it.
Six months after the rare condition prompted emergency heart surgery, Jones is leading Omaha Central back to the boys state basketball tournament, where the Eagles will attempt to win a third straight Class A title.
Central's secret weapon lies beneath that 8 1/2 inch scar on Jones' chest. It's a piece of bovine tissue, a replacement for Jones' corroded aortic valve. Without it, he wouldn't be on the Devaney Center floor at 8:45 tonight. The Eagles wouldn't be No. 1.
As teammate and cousin Donald Jones says when Josh scores in splendid fashion, it's not you, Josh.
"It must be that cow."
Rarely has a high school kid been hot like that.
It was the cold of winter 2008 and Josh Jones was in his black Central jersey -- No. 23. A packed house at Benson High School had forced security to lock the doors and send home late-arriving guests.
During a four-minute span in the first half, Jones dribbled to himself around a Benson player's back, buried three 3-pointers and flipped a pass behind his back to a teammate on a fast break. That would've been enough, but he added the cherry: a soaring one-handed dunk -- drawing a foul -- that elicited a collective "oooh" from the crowd.
Four minutes, 12 points, five highlights. Feeling fine, thank you.
Jones couldn't say the same in August. The first day of his senior year, one of Central's most popular faces found a seat in the front row of each classroom. He was cold. He pulled his black hooded sweat shirt against his skin, then lifted it over his head, almost covering his eyes. A whole day passed, he didn't say a word.
He had spent the last days of summer tucked in bed under four blankets and a sheet. He got so tired of going to the refrigerator for water that he filled a plastic gallon jug, grabbed a big straw and drank from his bedside. He ate only fruit snacks.
He'd stopped playing pickup ball. Hadn't touched a ball in weeks. Donald would come over and ask him to play. Too tired, Josh said.
He thought he had the flu.
He finally spoke up in class, asking if he could go to the nurse. She took his temperature: 103. Doctors prescribed antibiotics. Another hospital trip a week later yielded more antibiotics.
But on Labor Day, as his relatives prepared for dinner, Jones asked to lie down. He started dripping sweat. They carried him out of the car to the ER.
Doctors called it infective endocarditis. Bacteria commonly found in the mouth had entered the bloodstream through a simple infection and latched onto the surface of the heart's aortic valve.
Doctors at the University of Nebraska Medical Center see about one case per year from kids who are otherwise healthy.
Had Jones waited much longer to come in, he could've had a heart attack or a stroke. He could've died.
"Every time his heart pumped, as much as half the blood pumping forward was coming back into his heart," said Kim Duncan, UNMC chief of cardiothoracic surgery. "So the heart was working much harder to get blood out to his body."
"I thought he just had a cold," said Desiree Jones, Josh's mother. "Next thing I know, they want to open his heart up."
Josh was one year from Division I basketball, from becoming the first in his family to attend college. Just 16 months earlier, his dad had died of heart problems -- unrelated to Josh's condition. Family and friends huddled in prayer, absorbing nervous shivers, awaiting the end of a 5 1/2-hour procedure.
Duncan removed Jones' aortic valve -- the main outlet from the left ventricle -- and sewed cow pericardium in its place.
When Jones woke up, he felt warm, but he had tubes running out of his chest and his mouth. He was sore everywhere.
He ate only ice and gelatin the ensuing days. He developed a bedsore. A buzzer to the nurse's desk lay on his lap, but sometimes during the night it fell off his bed. His leg itched. He needed a painkiller. He couldn't signal help. He tried to yell. No energy.
"I was like a vegetable. That's how I felt."
One day, he looked at himself in the mirror for the first time since surgery and started crying.
"Everything looked different. I looked like an eighth-grader."
He had lost 30 pounds from his 200. Basketball? He barely thought about basketball.
After two weeks in the hospital, he spent another two weeks at home.
One night, he lay in bed, grabbed a toy basketball and started honing his left-handed stroke toward the hoop on his door. He needed a rebounder, though.
His little brother ran up the stairs and threw the ball back to Josh. Didn't last long. Eightyear-old brothers have better things to do.
It was good enough. Josh had the bug again.
The idea was to avoid the bad bug. A germ-free bubble, Jones said.
He had a catheter in his arm dripping intravenous fluids. Doctors and family ordered him to eat healthy. Wash your hands. And, most important, stay in the house.
But it was a lovely late-September day and nobody was home, so Josh took a real basketball outside and sat on the step. For the first time in two months, he dribbled: left hand, right hand, between his legs.
"The ball felt too big for my hands."
He returned to school Oct. 3 and waited for his breastbone to heal. He was cleared to practice Nov. 8. He worked on individual skills while his teammates practiced 5-on-5.
Fatigue limited him in December and January. He'd play hard for four minutes and wear down. When an opponent bumped his chest, he cringed in pain. He couldn't jump like before, so his shot was off.
"Plenty of people were saying, 'Josh, you just don't have it anymore,'" Jones said. "I didn't listen to that."
He started heating up Jan. 19 against Bellevue East. That's the night he assaulted the nets at Central High.
Swish. Swish. Swish.
Ten times from beyond the arc, tying a record for 3-pointers in a Class A game. It was a reminder for high school fans and coaches why he earned All-Nebraska honors as a junior. It was a portent for performances like the Benson game -- Jones has averaged 27.2 points his last 11 games.
After the 10th trey had fallen against Bellevue East, after he recorded his school-record 41st point, he walked pain-free to the bench.
Greeting him was Herb Welling, Central's assistant coach, who had been there for the two state championships, for Jones' 28 points in the 2007 final, for his workouts apart from the team last fall.
Welling's message: "Welcome home."