Plenty of eyes will be on the Minnesota high school basketball league in the next several months. The upcoming senior class is perhaps the most talented in recent memory as it boasts two five-star recruits in Tyus Jones of Apple Valley and Rashad Vaughn of Robbinsdale Cooper, as well as four-star recruit Reid Travis of De La Salle. Scout.com ranks Jones as the No. 2 overall recruit in the nation. He recently took time to chat in a phone interview with FOXSportsNorth.com. Here’s what Jones had to say about the hectic recruiting process, among other topics.
FSN: Since we last talked, you helped guide Apple Valley to a state championship. What was that feeling like?
JONES: It was really unbelievable. No words can really describe the feeling. To finally get over that hump and bring back the first basketball title to Apple Valley was a great accomplishment.
FSN: How did you grow as a player during your junior season at Apple Valley?
JONES: I felt like my leadership improved. I was talking more to my teammates, just small stuff like that. I also think our team grew as the season went on. Early in the season when I went down with the back injury, other guys really had to step up. That’s exactly what they did. When I came back I just tried to assert myself in a way that would continue us pushing forward and improving the team. We really just got better as a whole.
FSN: So many fans and college coaches came out to watch you play this season. Did you ever feel the pressure of all those extra eyes watching you?
JONES: I feel like I’m able to tune that out pretty well. There’s a lot of pressure, though. There was an unbelievable amount of fans at our games. The crowds were crazy. It really all just made for a better atmosphere, so you can’t really complain about stuff like that. Those are the type of atmospheres you want to play in. It was really great. I just tried to tune that out and really focus on the game.
FSN: What’s the offseason been like for you since the high school season ended?
JONES: I’ve just really been working out hard and then playing AAU ball. That’s really been what my schedule consists of aside from school.
FSN: AAU basketball is a different level of competition than the high school league. What do you enjoy about playing AAU?
JONES: The intensity, the speed of the game picks up. The competition is at a higher level. But it’s really what you look for. That’s how you really get better as a player. It’s just really a lot of fun. In a way, it’s different from the high school game and in a way it’s the same. It really just makes you better as a player.
FSN: You, Rashad Vaughn and Reid Travis have been called the “Big Three” of the 2014 recruiting class in Minnesota. How close are you with those two and how would you describe their games?
JONES: I’m good friends with both of them. I grew up playing with Rashad on an AAU team when we were younger. I knew Reid as a friend, just playing against him growing up and now with him on my (AAU) team we’re becoming closer friends. A lot of people have been talking about us three and different stuff like that. With Reid playing on our team we’re becoming closer friends. We’re working pretty well together on the floor. I played against Rashad last weekend, actually, in a great game. It’s all just really fun.
FSN: How often do the three of you talk about the recruiting process?
JONES: Not a whole lot. We try to let each other have their own space when it comes to the recruiting process, just because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It’s something you should be able to enjoy and just experience. Obviously it’s come up a few times just because how much people talk about it, so we’ve talked about it a little bit but not too much.
FSN: Have you, Rashad and Reid been able to realize just how special your recruiting class is?
JONES: I really don’t think it’s really hit any of the three of us. I’ve have to agree with you and say the Class of 2014 is an extremely, extremely talented class for Minnesota basketball. I think it is the most talented recruiting class that Minnesota has had.
FSN: Speaking of recruiting, you and Jahlil Okafor of Chicago are good friends. Do you still talk about going to the same school? (Minnesota is not on Okafor’s list of schools.)
JONES: Yes sir. We’re still planning on attending the same college.
FSN: Former Gophers coach Tubby Smith has been recruiting you since your eighth grade season. What was your reaction when Minnesota fired him after the season?
JONES: It really did surprise me. It surprised me that they fired him after the season ended. I think they had a pretty good season. They got a win in the NCAA Tournament. That surprised me. I hate to see stuff like that happen. Like you said, Coach Smith has been recruiting me since I was an eighth grader, so I had a pretty good relationship with him. It was hard to see him go, but at the same time I think they got a great hire in Coach (Richard) Pitino. They’ve got a nice young staff that’s really energetic and hungry and excited about getting going with this program. I think it was, depending on how you looked at it, a good situation for them with the hire and stuff like that. I’m excited for them and to see what Coach Pitino can bring to the table for the program and for the team.
FSN: Speaking of Coach Richard Pitino, have you had the chance to talk with him much? What have your impressions been just from your interactions with him?
JONES: We have started talking. I met with him and his staff, and I also text back and forth with a couple of the assistants and also with Coach Pitino, so we have started to build a relationship. We talk every so often. He knows the game of basketball. He’s been around the game of basketball. He’s been around the game of basketball, has a high basketball IQ. It’s really good to see a guy like him get hired for the Gophers because you can tell he’s hungry and excited to get going.
FSN: Have the Gophers’ coaching changes altered your view of the University of Minnesota as far recruiting goes?
JONES: The University of Minnesota is still one of the seven schools on my final list. I’m still evaluating them as an option. I don’t think they dropped or moved up or anything like that. They’re still a school that I’m evaluating and a good possibility. Just another school that I’m looking at going to.
FSN: You mentioned the fact that you’ve been texting with the Gophers staff. One of the interesting things about recruiting now is that coaches can text whenever they want. How much does your phone blow up on a daily basis with coaches texting or calling? Do you ever get sick of that?
JONES: I never get sick of it just because this whole thing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The situation could be very different. It’s something that I was blessed with to be put in this situation, so I have fun with it. But at the same time, I talk to coaches every day for the most part. Not the same coach every day, but some coach will either text or call me pretty much every day. But at the same time, it’s not the same coach that’s calling or texting me every day. They’ve been extremely respectful as far as when to text me and call and how much, whether it be Monday-Wednesday or whatever days they decided to text me.
FSN: Your list of schools has been narrowed to seven (Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State and Minnesota). Are you planning on narrowing the list any further before making your decision?
JONES: I’m pretty sure I’ll just stick with that list of seven until I make my final decision.
FSN: Are you getting closer to picking the school, or where is your thought process on when the final decision may come?
JONES: I’d like to have a decision by November, the early signing period. But I have to take my officials in the fall and just kind of go from there. If I’m not ready to make a decision by November, then I’ll have to wait. But that would be the goal just to be able to get it out of the way before your senior year.
FSN: How much of your decision hinges on where other players might go and how that alters where you fit best?
JONES: A little bit, just to see what other recruits are thinking and where other recruits are going and stuff like that. But at the same time, we’re all talking to each other so we have kind of a good feel of where some recruits are going. But you also have to wait and see at the same time.