Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Anyone who follows high school basketball in Minnesota is already well aware of Tyus Jones.
The Apple Valley sophomore just turned 16, but he’s already becoming one of the state’s most heralded basketball players ever. Combine that with the fact that he’s wrapping up his sophomore year in high school, and it presents one of the most unique situations in prep sports.
Jones won every basketball award there is to win this year other than Mr. Basketball, which goes to the top senior in the state every year. He was one of the top scorers in the state at more than 28 points per game and set up his teammates with more than six assists per game.
Add in defense that got better throughout the season and a jump shot that’s getting better every day, and you get one of the best players that will ever come through the state. It’s hard to believe with all the talent Jones has, he’s as humble as he is and still has two years left before deciding on college. What’s refreshing about him as an athlete is that most kids at 16 are looking to hang out with friends and go to the movies. He would rather meet his friends at a basketball court, play pick-up ball and work on his jump shot.
When you ask him what makes him so talented, all he will point out is what he needs to work on and where he needs to get better.
“I’m a floor leader, I’m a distributor and I’m looking to score,” Jones told WCCO-TV’s Mike Max back in April. “I just try to do it all.”
Jones wrapped up his sophomore season with Apple Valley in March, and he’s already received college scholarship offers from Duke, Michigan State, Indiana and the Gophers among several other teams. He will not decide on a college or even hint at where he’s leaning towards until his senior year.
Not that he needed to, but Jones proved himself in front of many of the top coaches in the country back in April at the Nike Tournament in Eagan as part of the Howard Pulley AAU summer team he plays on. He played against several of the top players in the country and was one of the best players there.
He’s already been compared locally to Khalid El-Amin, who was a star at Minneapolis North before going onto win a national title with Connecticut and eventually a pro career that’s still ongoing.
Jones’s current high school coach Zack Goring attributes all his skill to hard work, determination and the drive to get better every day. That, and he’s been playing against older kids since he was little.
“In our youth program he was constantly being pushed up two or three levels. Once he got to fifth grade we pushed him up to seventh grade and he was the best player on the team,” Goring said. “He’s a player we’ve built our program around. He’s a great role model to all the young kids.”
Many recruiting services have Jones as the top point guard in the country and in the top five in the entire country for the 2014 recruiting class.
Goring said if there’s one thing that really drives Jones, it’s the chance to play for a state championship. Apple Valley lost to rival Eastview in this past year’s section championship game and was also eliminated by Eastview two seasons ago.
Jones got on the national radar last summer, when he excelled on the U.S. National 16-and-under team. He’s expected to try out for and play on the 17-and-under national team this summer.
Goring said he knew he had a special talent early on. Jones started at point guard for the Apple Valley varsity team as an eighth grader.
“We were having one of our first practices of the year when he was in eighth grade. The gym doors were closed and all the sudden we hear a knock. I open the door and it’s (Gophers coach) Tubby Smith. He came to talk to Tyus.”
Now everywhere Jones and Apple Valley plays, the gyms get packed during the high school basketball season. After every game, regardless of a win or loss, Jones can be seen signing autographs for young, idolizing fans.
Everyone wants to see what the future has in store for Jones and just how good he really is. There were even a few Gopher basketball games last season Jones attended at Williams Arena where the University of Minnesota student section started chanting “We want Tyus, we want Tyus.”
Goring said he has had limited conversation with Jones about college and has no idea where he might go. But with all the attention the young star gets, Goring said he would expect Jones to make official visits starting about this time next year and make a decision before the start of his senior year.
If Jones were to choose Minnesota, it would be a surprise to local fans since he has the attention of every major coach around the country. But staying home could put the Gopher program on the national map for a long time, but more importantly, encourage several of the state’s other top players to stay home.
Having a player as talented as Jones could become a distraction for Apple Valley, but Goring said he embraces all the attention it brings to his program.
“We’re having a lot of fun with it. The kids in our program enjoy it too. Our crowds this year were packed almost everywhere we went,” Goring said.
If that’s not enough to chew on, Tyus has a little brother named Trey who is currently in sixth grade but is the best player on Apple Valley’s eighth grade team.
For now, Jones is going to do what he should do: Have fun as a high school kid, work hard and enjoy the ride. That, and receive letters, text messages and calls from the top college coaches in the nation who all want him to sport their jersey in two years.