MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s hard to fathom that two years ago at this time, Tyus Jones was celebrating a state championship with Apple Valley as a high school junior.

This time last year, Jones was preparing to graduate and had already signed a letter of intent to attend Duke and play basketball. I’m sure many people thought Jones would have success immediately at Duke, but nobody could have predicted what he would accomplish in his freshman season with the Blue Devils.

Jones was Duke’s fourth leading scorer with 11.8 points per game and was one of the top point guards in the nation with more than five assists per game. He also shot 38 percent from three-point range and 89 percent from the free-throw line.

But most importantly, Jones was at his best when Duke needed him the most. He led them to a national championship. He made every key play and hit every big shot on the way to being named the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four. He couldn’t have played better for his team on the game’s biggest stage, not only in front of a crowd of thousands, but also as millions watched on TV.

A day after helping Kevin Garnett throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Twins home opener, Jones officially announced he was leaving Duke and entering his name in the NBA Draft. As a fan of college basketball, this was news I didn’t want to read. I’m a little selfish when it comes to watching great players in college.

But it’s the right move for Jones at the right time. The reality is his stock as an NBA draft choice has and probably never will be higher. He’s projected to be picked anywhere in the middle to late first round. If he returned for his sophomore year at Duke he could become a lottery pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, but he also risks an injury that could threaten a professional career.

And if history is any indication, he’ll have a long and successful NBA career. Jones has made a habit of playing against older and more experienced competition, yet finding a way to still be the best player on the court.

While other teenagers were playing video games or riding their bikes, he was in a gym shooting or dribbling, doing everything he could to take his game to the next level. It shows when he’s on the court in an actual game. He sees things that most others don’t and seems to be one play ahead of everyone else.

Jones is taking advantage of a situation he created for himself. The NBA Draft is in late June, which means he’s about two months away from becoming a millionaire. Yet when he returned to Apple Valley this week to be honored, given a key to the city and have his high school jersey retired, he was the same humble and quiet kid he always has been. He got emotional while thanking his family for helping him along the way and the community for their support.

He’s always been the type of player to put his teammates first even though his talent pretty much speaks for itself.

Many college players leave school early to turn professional for financial reasons. The money is too good to pass up when it comes to supporting their family and the chance to realize a boyhood dream. That dream and fortune will soon become a reality for Jones, but he has the skill set to match it at the game’s highest level.

So what will it take for Jones to succeed in the NBA? For one, he’ll probably have to hit the weight room this summer. His biggest adjustment will probably be the physicality of the professional game. His defense will need to improve and his jump shot will need to be more consistent, but his overall skill speaks for itself. He’s the type of player that wants the ball in every big moment. He’s not afraid to take the big shot or create a better shot for someone else.

With that said, where will Jones end up? That’s anyone’s guess, but many local fans are hoping he stays in Minnesota. The Timberwolves would have to do some maneuvering to make that happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they at least made an effort.

Minnesota finished with the worst record in the NBA this year, so statistically they have the best shot at getting the No. 1 overall pick. The Timberwolves also have the 31st and 36th picks in the second round. If Flip Saunders wants to get Jones, he would have to put together a trade package to get a pick in the first round in the area he would be taken.

Jones will be the first Minnesota-born player taken in the NBA Draft since Kris Humphries back in 2004. He’s already established himself as one of the best Minnesota high school players of all time. Now it’s just a matter of time before he makes a name for himself playing the game at its highest level.

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