Apple Valley's Jones has attention of colleges
APPLE VALLEY, Minn. — By his own account, Tyus Jones is just like any other high school sophomore. He enjoys hanging out with friends, playing video games and staying active on social media.
"Just normal kid stuff," Jones said.
On the basketball court, however, the 15-year-old is anything but a normal kid. The Apple Valley High School point guard is, in some ways, a man among boys. He's started on the Eagles' varsity team since he was an eighth grader. As a sophomore, he's already one of Apple Valley's team captains — a sign of his leadership despite his young age.
And when the Eagles hit the road, opposing gyms are filled to the brim, with many people there just to see what Jones can do.
"The thing is, when people come see him, then they come back again," said Apple Valley head coach Zach Goring. "They're not just coming out once saying, 'Ah, he's not really that good.' He's legit and he's fun to watch."
Jones is widely regarded as the best point guard in the state of Minnesota, and he still has almost three years of high school to improve his game. In an era where many players look to score first rather than pass, Jones is a throwback.
Two of his favorite NBA point guards are the Clippers' Chris Paul and the Bulls' Derrick Rose. Jones said his game also emulates some of what Timberwolves rookie point guard Ricky Rubio has brought to Minnesota.
"Definitely a pass-first point guard," Jones said about his style of play. "I like to distribute the ball. I've got great vision, can see the floor well, but also I can get to the hoop and also knock down the open shot if the defense gives it to me."
During his first two years at the varsity level, passing always came first for Jones. But Goring said Jones’ scoring ability has increased during his sophomore season as Jones has averaged a team-high 27.9 points — up from the 16.3 ppg he averaged as an eighth grader.
Still, what makes Jones special is his ability to make his teammates better with his passing. Jones is currently averaging 7.3 assists.
"The way he controls the game and moves the basketball is kind of what sets him apart from other point guards," Goring said. "You've almost got to watch him for an extended period of time to really understand how he hits guys. His passing hits them in their shooting pocket, gets them the ball where they need to be successful."
Talent from a young age
In the world of high school sports, Apple Valley is known first and foremost as a wrestling powerhouse. The Eagles' wrestling team has won 19 state championships and two national titles while continually producing Division I athletes.
But basketball was always Jones' destiny.
"I was kind of born into a basketball family, I guess you could say," Jones said. "My parents played basketball. Both sides of my family, everyone played basketball — my cousins, my aunts, my uncles, both sides. … Ever since I was little, ever since I can remember, I've been in the gym with the ball in my hands just running around. So that's how I got started."
His earliest memories of playing organized basketball were at the local YMCA as a preschooler. By the time he was in elementary school, Jones realized that perhaps he had a special gift.
"When I went down to nationals in the third grade, playing teams across the country, my team finished in the top 20," Jones said. "Then the next summer, we finished fifth. We did pretty good down there.
"I kind of had a feeling that I was pretty good."
The quiet, soft-spoken Jones downplays his talents. He speaks with humility and is already a seasoned veteran when it comes to media requests. The way he deals with all the publicity is much like how he handles his business on the court — with grace and professionalism.
"I'm just a normal, laid-back kid," Jones said. "I'm real humble, not big-headed or anything. That kind of goes along with my game. I'm not really a flashy player or a showoff type of player. I make the simple play, make the right play. That's just kind of how I am."
Interviews and media attention started flowing in when Jones started for Apple Valley as an eighth grader. By then, he was used to playing at a higher level of competition than most kids his age.
"It's unheard of," Goring said of an eighth grader playing varsity. "To start him as an eighth grader, he had the ability. His first game, he had 13 points, eight assists at St. Louis Park. He's got the skills, and he's had them for quite some time."
Aside from playing varsity for Apple Valley, Jones — like many of the top high school players in the country — is on the basketball court year-round. He was a member of Team USA at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship and has played for the Howard Pulley Panthers.
"This is a guy that doesn't shy away from competition," said Evan Daniels, a recruiting analyst for Scout.com. "He'll play up. He's a special kid."
The next level
There's a reason why college coaches such as Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Minnesota's Tubby Smith come to watch Apple Valley play. Jones said he's already received scholarship offers from a handful of schools, including MSU, Ohio State and his hometown school, the Gophers. Many more offers are sure to follow.
While the 6-foot-1 Jones may lack the size of other guards, Daniels says there is "no question" Jones is a Division I talent. Scout.com currently has him ranked as the nation's second-best point guard in the Class of 2014 and the seventh-best player overall in that class.
"As far as a long-term point guard prospect goes, he's up there," Daniels says. "I wouldn't say he has great size, but I would say he's just a true floor general. He sees the floor really well, passes on the money every time, can knock down some jump shots if he needs to. He is just wise beyond his years. He's a guy from an IQ standpoint that's among the best in the country, regardless of class."
While the college application process is far from the minds of many high school sophomores, it's something Jones will have on his plate from now until the day he commits to a school. There are many in the state of Minnesota who would love to see him stay at home and play for Smith and the Gophers.
But Jones isn't tipping his hand as to where he'd prefer to go.
"I'm open for anywhere," he said. "The location I don't think — it's a factor of course, but it's not like I want to stay in the Big Ten or want to stay real close or I want to go far away. It's not one of those. It's just seeing what's the best fit for me and everything about the school."
In the meantime, Jones is going to continue to enjoy life as a high school sophomore. He'll play NBA 2K12 on Xbox, hang out with friends and tweet to the nearly 2,000 people that follow him on Twitter (@Tyusjones06).
He'll also continue to play basketball, a sport he seemed destined to play. And he'll continue to turn many heads in the process.
"I think the biggest thing is he's a true leader and a true point guard and a guy that's truly separated himself from his peers — most of them, anyway," Daniels said. "I think he's a guy that's going to continue to impress throughout his high school career."