The buzz was palpable, but Tyus Jones is accustomed to the buzz. The Apple Valley High School sophomore began his third season as a starter for the Eagles basketball team when they hosted Eden Prairie on Tuesday night, so a little buzz is nothing new for the 6-foot-2 guard.
The Tweets were flying before tipoff: “Tom Izzo is in the Apple Valley gym tonight watching Tyus Jones.” Yes, the Michigan State coach was there, as was Ohio State assistant coach Jeff Boals. University of Minnesota coach Tubby Smith would have been there, too, if not for a scheduling conflict: the Gophers were playing Appalachian State at Williams Arena at the same time.
Jones, the most well-known kid in Apple Valley’s Class of 2014, won’t be able to drive a car until his 16th birthday in May. But in Minnesota basketball circles, he is Justin Bieber, attracting big-name college coaches like so many screaming tween girls. And the basketball Bieber was superb in Tuesday night’s season opener, in which Eden Prairie rallied to win 89-85. (Jones is pictured between Eden Prairie's Grant Shaeffer and Jordan Peterson.) Jones scored 37 points and came one rebound short of a triple-double. He made 13 of 22 field-goal attempts and 10 of 11 free throws with nine rebounds, 11 assists, six turnovers and five steals.
“I’m certainly no expert but I have a feeling that any D1 coach would take him right now, not two years from now,” said Eden Prairie coach David Flom. “He’s unbelievable.”
Jones – who is a team captain alongside seniors Grant Christian and Mitch Hechsel -- has been called Minnesota’s best point guard since Khalid El-Amin led Minneapolis North to three state championships in the 1990s and went on to win an NCAA championship at Connecticut. ESPN.com named Jones the best point guard nationally in the Class of 2014. Over the summer he played for the USA Basketball National Developmental Team Under-17 squad that captured the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) Americas Championship gold medal in Cancun, Mexico, and qualified for the 2012 FIBA World Championship tournament in Lithuania.
So yes, Jones will have his pick of colleges. But all this acclaim, all this notoriety, all this blatant buzz can make it difficult for a 15-year-old to remember that he is only 15 years old. That’s where another Jones comes in.
Jadee Jones, 25, is Tyus’ big brother, role model and mentor. Jadee played basketball for three years at DeLaSalle in Minneapolis and transferred to Hopkins as a senior. In college, he spent two years at Division I Furman University in South Carolina before transferring to Minnesota State Mankato.
While Jadee’s recruiting experiences did not equal what Tyus is going through, he knows plenty about the process and how to navigate it.
“My role is to answer questions when he has them and help him stay focused, and it’s easy because he does a good job, he gets it,” Jadee told me after Tuesday’s game. “It’s like he’s been 17 or 18 for three years now.”
Indeed. I first interviewed Tyus when he was in eighth grade, and his maturity was evident. He’s calm with the media, he’s calm on the court and the presence of powerhouse college coaches doesn’t affect him.
“Honestly, over everything else I think that’s his greatest strength, that mentally he’s unwavering,” Jadee said. “When the pressure amplifies in a game, it’s almost more likely that he’s going to make a good play just because so many other people begin to falter and change what it is that they do, and he just never does. He’s never nervous about anything, whether coaches are in the gym or it’s a tie game with two seconds left or whatever the situation is. Mentally, nothing shakes him. He’s just able to continue to go with what he knows is right and he sticks with it.”
Jadee – a staff member at Cedar Park Elementary in Apple Valley -- set up a 10-week training program to help Tyus prepare for the USA National Team tryouts in Colorado Springs. That sometimes meant 6 a.m. workouts in the gym or the weight room. Apple Valley coach Zach Goring, in fact, said Jadee deserves much of the credit for Tyus’ development.
Jadee (pictured in a postgame handshake with Izzo) said he and his brother “commited to never missing a workout, so sometimes we had to get it in at 6 a.m. Since I’m so close, it helps that I can wake him up when he doesn’t want to get up or whatever. I help motivate him, whether it’s the weight room or getting up shots. Sometimes I have to push him just a little bit, but again he gets it so he knows when I’m going to push him and he responds to it pretty quickly.”
Eden Prairie trailed Apple Valley by 12 points in the first half but chipped away in the second half. A three-point basket by Sander Mohn – who led his team with 27 points -- put Eden Prairie in front 77-76 with 2:04 to play and Eden Prairie made 10 of 13 free throws in the final minute. Jones scored six points in the last 16 seconds.
“He’s just so composed,” Flom said of Jones, “and from the time we played against him in eighth grade you could see that. He has an ability to just navigate through traffic and make easy plays.”
Apple Valley’s next game is against Tartan at 7:45 p.m. Saturday in the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic at Minnetonka High School. On Jan. 7 Apple Valley will play at Target Center against Onalaska (ranked No.1 in Wisconsin’s Division 2) in the last of six games at the Timberwolves Shootout.
Buy a ticket, because Tyus Jones is worth the price of admission. And you never know who else might be in the gym.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 171
*Miles John has driven: 5,119
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn