Some things haven’t changed on boys basketball game nights at Apple Valley High School. Coach Zach Goring still uses body English to will three-point shots to fall and he still reaches into a pile of cough drops on the scorer’s table. The players’ shoes still squeak and the fans still cheer for the Eagles … even though the crowds are smaller.
Unlike the last few years, there are no extra ticket sellers, no extra security for crowd control, no national TV, no fire marshal keeping an eye on the jam-packed gym. This season is a return to normalcy after a stretch in which Apple Valley was one of the nation’s most high-profile basketball programs.
That’s because the Jones Era has ended. Tyus Jones is now in his third season with the Minnesota Timberwolves and his brother Tre is a freshman at Duke University, where Tyus also played. Gary Trent Jr., another former Eagle who spent his senior season at a California prep school before playing at Duke, is now with the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. Beginning when Tyus Jones became a starter as an eighth-grader in the 2009-10 season, the Eagles were on the map.
That stretch ended last season when Tre finished his high school career. Apple Valley won Class 4A state championships in 2013, 2015 and 2017 and was the state runner-up a year ago.
“Last season I really tried to take in every single moment, because I realize how fast it went,” Goring said Tuesday night after the Eagles lost to Farmington 45-43, giving them a record of 2-3.
In 2009-10 the Eagles finished 20-9. A year later they were 19-10. In the next seven years Apple Valley lost six games once, five games once, had two losses four times and one loss in 2012-13, when they won their first state title. The Eagles’ record in the nine Jones seasons was 236-39.
For much of that period, big-time college coaches were regular attendees at Apple Valley games. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski saw the Jones brothers and Trent play multiple times, as did coaches from colleges of all sizes who had an eye on Eagles players. Currently, 13 Apple Valley graduates are playing college basketball (see list below).
“It’s been a treat to meet coaches at all levels, and certainly the bluebloods, and we’ve had every single one of them in our gym through the nine years with those two guys,” Goring said. “We've had a good pipeline. We've sent three kids to Duke and we've sent three kids to St. Olaf.”
Tuesday night’s South Suburban Conference opener against Farmington had a different feel, beginning with the pregame introductions. Senior guard Mark Possis is the only returning varsity player from last season, and everyone who played in the three games at last year’s state tournament is gone. Tuesday’s other starters were seniors Max Sanders and Michael Christiansen, junior Elliot Ewald and sophomore Noah Friedt.
“I think I went into the season obviously understanding that it would be different, but it’s been really fun, too,” Goring said. “In the past we were so skilled and so polished at everything. Last year’s class, even if you took Tre out of it, that might have been the best class we’ve ever had here. And you put Tre with it, and that was a dynamite team.
“This year we’re doing a lot of teaching in practice. And that’s been fun, to get back to teaching kids how to play. We’ve got some younger guys who are eager to learn and older guys, too. They’re all good kids and they’re taking the instruction really well. I think that’s been the biggest difference; last year we played a lot and we fine-tuned things and we had a lot more sets because the kids were two-year starters and Tre was so advanced at the point guard spot. This year we’re keeping it really simple, teaching them how to play.”
The Jones brothers’ names are all over the team record book, as is their head coach. Goring still holds the single-season record for assists with 285 in 1994-95, when he was an Apple Valley senior. After playing at St. Cloud State, Goring was an Eagles assistant for eight years before becoming head coach 10 years ago.
The previous head coach, Mike Fritze, also was the Eagles head football coach. Goring coached the junior varsity team and also directed summer camps before Fritze stepped down.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Goring said. “He saw the Joneses coming and decided, ‘I’m going to step back, let Zach take it.’ That was really neat.”Current Apple Valley players in the NBA and College Basketball
Tyus Jones – Minnesota Timberwolves
Gary Trent Jr – Portland Trail Blazers
Dennis Austin – University of Mary
Austin Korba – St. Olaf
Steven Christiansen – Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Brock Bertram – University of Buffalo
Cameron Kirksey – Minnesota State Mankato
Aaron Ertz – Augsburg
Kevin Totusek – Southwest Minnesota State
Mohamed Kone – North Dakota State College of Science
Tre Jones – Duke
Luke Martens – Winona State
Josh Arnold – Central Lakes Community College
Nathan Macho – Wisconsin-River Falls
Zach Korba – Bethel Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn