Winning pedigree: Family’s basketball competitiveness fueled Tyus Jones’ rise

After committing to Duke in a package deal with longtime friend Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones seized the point guard reins early and steered the Blue Devils to their fifth national championship.

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The aspirations festered on basketball courts across the northern plains, beginning decades before Tyus Jones was born.

This is where his mother Debbie Jones and aunt Darcy Cascaes combined to win three North Dakota state championships at Devils Lake High during the 1980s. Mom went on to play at Lake Region State College. Her sister became an all-conference guard at the University of North Dakota.

Jones’ father Rob, who’s since divorced Debbie, also played collegiately, at Division III Wisconsin-Parkside. Tyus’ uncle, Al Nuness, captained the Gophers in the 1960s. His cousin, Jared Nuness, was the 1997 Minnesota Gatorade player of the year and Mr. Basketball runner-up. Older brother Jadee played at Furman and Minnesota State-Mankato. The youngest Jones sibling, Tre, is a freshman at Apple Valley and just helped the United States win gold at the 2015 FIBA Americas Under-16 championship in Argentina.

"I would definitely say our family is competitive," Cascaes, today DeLaSalle High School’s activities director, says with a knowing scoff, aware she’s understating the blatant.

Board games and Wiffle Ball scrimmages at family get-togethers have been stopped in mid-stream. An inner blaze has been passed down from generation to generation, and anyone who watched the 2015 Final Four saw it on full display as Tyus took home MVP accolades and a piece of Lucas Oil Stadium basketball netting.

But for all the pedigree and competitive juices flowing in his veins, Tyus Jones never thought he’d be here.

Where’s here? Where it all began. Apple Valley, Minn., waiting for a call from an NBA team that’ll cement his basketball future and potentially earn him millions.

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"Obviously, that’s every kid’s dream," Jones told reporters at the NBA draft combine, "but to actually have it right in front of you, it’s just truly amazing."

And a bit surprising, despite the fact Jones shot to the top of recruiting rankings, earned state player of the year honors three times, starred with AAU organization Howard Pulley and took part in the McDonald’s All-American game and Jordan Brand Classic. After committing to Duke in a package deal with longtime friend Jahlil Okafor, Jones seized the point guard reins early and steered the Blue Devils to their fifth national championship.

But the foundation for Jones’ excellent court vision, knack for scoring from inside and out and morphing into a prototypical modern-day point man — save for perhaps his size — was laid at an early age. DeLaSalle coach Dave Thorson noticed it when Jones was in first grade, participating in the first of many Thorson-directed youth camps.

"I’m not going to say myself or anyone could’ve predicted all the tremendous success he’s had, but his greatest skill in my mind is Tyus has such a powerful skill of observation and of being able to see something and understand what’s going on," Thorson said. "You could see that at an early age he was able to understand how to play the right way.

"The best point guards score when they need to and can help their teammates score easily as well: ‘I’m going to try and get my 20 and help you get your 20.’ That’s Tyus."

He did at Duke, averaging 11.8 points and 5.6 assists per game. Jones projects as a mid-to-late first-round selection, limited primarily due to his 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame and need for improvement on the defensive end.

Unless former AAU teammate Rashad Vaughn goes before him, Jones would be the first Minnesotan to be drafted in the first round since Royce White in 2012.

The Timberwolves, whom Jones grew up watching from his Apple Valley home, are in need of a backup point guard behind Ricky Rubio but would need to trade back into the first round to snag Jones. Some have proposed the pipe dream where Minnesota picks Okafor first overall and uses one or both of its second-round picks in a deal that nets them Jones.

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"That would just add on to everything else feeling like a dream, really," said Jones, who interviewed with Minnesota and several other teams at the combine and has worked out for a handful more in the past month. "As a kid, you dream of playing in the NBA, but then ultimately with your hometown team."

Said Cascaes, who along with Debbie and Tre Jones just returned from Argentina and Team USA’s successful trip: "Obviously, that would be very cool and make things a lot easier for our family in terms of having him local, but we just want him to go where it’s a good situation for him."

Whoever gets Jones, though, will get an outright winner. In addition to his national championship ring, Jones has a Class 4A state championship and three gold medals of his own on his resume.

"When you look at the history of basketball and judge point guards, the one quality when you talk about (is), ‘OK who are the best point guards?’ The one thing each of them have in common — some are more athletic, some can shoot —  but the one thing they in common is that they win," Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel said. "Whatever it takes to win, Tyus does."

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