Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Saturday presented a rare opportunity to see all of the state’s top basketball talent in the same venue as the Target Center served as host for the Timberwolves Shootout.
The featured match-up of the event put the state’s most highly-touted players against each other as Tyus Jones and Apple Valley faced off against Rashad Vaughn and Cooper. It wasn’t a true head-to-head match-up as they don’t play the same position, so they don’t guard each other.
There were two times in the game where they did meet up, and they both ended in defensive stops, ironic for two players who are so talented offensively. Vaughn blocked Jones on a lay-up in the second half as he was trying to drive the lane, and Jones heavily contested Vaughn on a missed 3-pointer late in the contest.
The reality is the hype surrounding their talent and ability more than lived up to its billing. Both Jones and Vaughn, if they were high school seniors, could be ready to make an immediate impact at whatever school they chose to attend. The fact that they are each juniors and still have more than one full season, plus their perspective AAU summer programs, is scary.
In the past, basketball fans have drooled over prep stars like Khalid El-Amin, Darius Lane, Joel Przybilla, Sam Jacobson and more recently types like Rick Rickert, Kris Humphries and Joe Coleman. Jones, Vaughn and DeLaSalle’s Reid Travis are currently in the top 30 in the nation for the 2014 class, with Jones being the No. 1 recruit and Vaughn being ranked No. 10.
It was an absolute joy to watch Jones and Vaughn show off their talent in Saturday’s game. Cooper led by 11 at one point in the second half before Jones and Apple Valley took over with a 31-9 run to win the game 80-70. They are two great players, but their approaches couldn’t be more different.
Vaughn is about 6-6 and can jump out of the gym. He’s a shooting guard who can score off the dribble whenever and wherever he wants to. He showcased that by drilling two long perimeter shots that happened to be right in front of two very interested college coaches: Minnesota’s Tubby Smith and North Carolina’s Roy Williams. Later in the second half, he found a seam and drove the lane over three defenders for a bucket.
“He’s a good, talented player,” Jones said. “It was fun to play against him and we took it as a group effort to try and guard him.”
Vaughn can take over a game whenever he wants, but he also took 33 shots to score 36 points in a game his team lost. Cooper is now 4-5 on the season. Assuming he stays healthy, he’s probably the type of player who goes to college for one year then opts for the NBA.
What makes Jones so incredible is that his approach is about making everyone else around him better. He’s been battling back spasms for about a month now, and coach Zach Goring said he’s about 75-80 percent healthy right now. That might be putting it generously. Jones had 18 points and 10 assists in the victory. He could’ve had five or six more assists if some lay-ups weren’t missed.
“He just has a great feel for the game,” Goring said. “He’s a closer, and nothing surprises me with him anymore.”
Jones, for as highly-touted as he’s been since his freshman season, might be the most unselfish player I’ve ever seen. He directs traffic and thrives off making the great pass to find an open teammate for a score. If he doesn’t see an option open, he can carve through a defense and create his own shot. He does it so easily that it leaves you shaking your head and wondering “How did he do that?”
When he came out of the locker room after the game was over, Jones had a humbling look of “I’m not sure what the big deal is” when it came to media talking to him after the game. He’s one of the few I’ve seen that won’t let the hype and the future get in the way of who he is as a player and a person. He just wants to win a state championship, and everything else will fall into place.
Vaughn was the only player in double figures for Cooper in the game, while Jones was one of four Apple Valley players to get in double digits.
“My eyes are always up and I just look for the open guy,” Jones said. “Guys have stepped up and improved, so it’s a really good squad.”
The recruiting push is far from over for either player. The coaches for their final eight schools can each visit up to seven times. Jones and Vaughn can take up to five official visits to different schools. Don’t be surprised or disappointed if neither of them take official visits to Minnesota. With the school being in their backyard, they have regular communication with the program and know the campus well enough that an official visit may not be necessary. Plus, both regularly attend Gophers basketball games.
Expect both to commit to their school of choice by November. Most recruits in their senior year want that attention and stress gone before the season starts. If the Gophers land any of these top players, it would be huge for their program’s long-term success. In the meantime, get out and watch these kids play. It’s pretty rare for this state to have this kind of talent, it simply just doesn’t come around very often.