Tyus Jones could be considered the Pied Piper of college basketball.
Jones, a point guard from Apple Valley, Minn., is rated as the nation’s No. 4 prospect overall for 2014 by 247Sports.com. He says he is considering a list of seven schools for his college choice.
Even more intriguing, though, is the potential he could bring one or more highly rated prospects with him wherever he decides to go. One of those is 6-11, 270-pound center Jahlil Okafor of Illinois. Okafor is rated as the nation’s No. 2 prospect. Power forward Cliff Alexander, a 6-9 prospect and an AAU teammate of Okafor’s, has also said he might like to join those two at their school of choice.
Jones and Okafor became fast friends the last two years as they were teammates on Team USA. They were two of the younger players on the team as they played “up” alongside 2013 stars like Jabari Parker and Conner Frankamp in bringing home a pair of gold medals in international play.
“We really built a great friendship while we were on Team USA,” Jones said of Okafor. “We just grew since then. We are still planning on going to the same college. We’re going to try and make that happen.”
For his part, the 6-2, 175-pound Jones has narrowed his college choices to these seven schools: Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State (see below for more on those schools).
At the point guard position, Jones is rated behind the nation’s top overall prospect in Emmanuel Mudiay of Texas. He talked about the benefit and burden of being considered a national top-five prospect.
“It’s been a lot of hard work,” he said. “You can’t let up or settle. You have to keep working to get better.”
Jones talked about what sets him apart as a point guard.
Jones (right) celebrates gold medal win for Team USA
“I think I have the all-around game,” Jones said. “I’m a pass-first point guard. I have no problem making the pass to set up my teammates for open shots. A lot of point guards nowadays look to score first. I have no problem setting up my teammates. I think that is what separates me from other point guards.
“I think I have good court vision. It’s all about setting up your teammates and putting them in the best position to score.”
Jones said he studies other top point guards for ideas on how to improve his game.
“I watch a lot of Chris Paul,” he said. “I love how he picks apart the defense and breaks down the game with his mind. I’d say I watch mostly Chris Paul. That’s who I try and pattern myself after the most.”
Jones led Apple Valley to a 31-1 record and the school’s first state championship this past winter. His coach, Zach Goring, talked about what makes Jones a special player.
“I think what sets him apart is the way he understands the game,” he said. “He does as good a job of anybody I have ever seen of making his teammates better. He gets them in positions where they can be successful. If they can shoot, he gets it to them in a position where he can shoot.
“With kids finishing on the break, he does a great job of pitching the ball ahead and leading kids to the rim. With our posts, he feeds them real well when he draws a couple defenders.”
Goring said Jones is a master of exploiting the weaknesses of the defense when he has the ball in his hands.
Jones is averaging over 23 points per game in Nike EYBL action
“We run a lot of screen-and-roll offense at Apple Valley,” the coach said. “He is as good as anyone at reading the screen-and-roll. He’s also developed into a 40 percent three-point shooter, so if that defender goes under the screen he can step back and knock down the three. He is the total package as a point guard.”
Jerry Meyer, the national basketball recruiting editor for 247Sports.com, has seen Jones at a number of national and AAU events the last several years. He shared his impressions on Jones’ game as a point guard.
“There are not a lot of players at any level that have the feel for the game and the skill level to take advantage of that feel like Tyus Jones,” Meyer said. “He has that Chris Paul/Tony Parker ability to control a game despite being a small point guard. Jones will also surprise you with his athleticism and strength. He defends well in one-on-one situations and has a knack for coming up with steals when not guarding the ball.
“One thing that separates him from a lot of guards who are heady and great passers is that Jones is a knockdown deep range shooter as well.”
A Variety Of Experiences
From the local to the statewide level, national competitions and even worldwide exploits with Team USA, Jones has seen every level of competition a high school athlete can face.
He played up a year the last two summers, helping the Americans win gold medals at the Under-16 world championship in 2011 and the U-17 games last year. He averaged 8.5 points and 5.2 assists per game as Team USA went 8-0 at those games last year.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” Jones said of the chance to play with Team USA. “It was an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget. Anytime you get a chance to put that USA across your chest and represent your country, you’re proud. You take honor in that.”
Jones has been tearing up the AAU circuit the past few years with the Howard Pulley program. This spring, his team has posted a 7-6 record through three legs in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. In those games, Jones is among the league leaders in scoring (23.2 points per game), assists (6.8 per game), field goal shooting (56.5 percent), free throw shooting (89 percent) and three-point shooting (44.4 percent).
This past weekend in Dallas, Jones kicked off the weekend with a 27-point effort in a win over CIA Bounce. He hit all 11 of his field goal attempts in that game. He also had a 32-point game later in the weekend.
“It’s a fun time,” Jones said. “The EYBL is the top-of-the-line AAU circuit in the country. Every weekend and every game, you have to bring your A game and be ready to play against the best. That only makes you better. I really enjoy it a lot.”
His spring will continue with another EYBL prelim leg next weekend in Milwaukee. He will then attend the Team USA tryouts for the Under-19 team world championships. His Howard Pulley team will likely qualify for the EYBL finals at the Peach Jam in early July and at national events after that. He also figures to attend the Chris Paul point guard camp in August.
Jones burst on the scene at Apple Valley as a freshman in 2010-11 and averaged 20.1 points and 7.1 assists over 16 games. He was limited that season due to a lacerated kidney.
He came back as a sophomore and posted 28.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 3.4 steals per game for a team that went 23-6.
This past winter, Jones averaged 20.7 points. He had four 30-point games including a season-high 40-point game. Apple Valley capped the season by avenging an earlier loss to Park Center in winning the Class 4A state title game 74-57. In that win, Jones had 28 points and was a spiffy 18 of 18 at the foul line.
“It was great to be able to go against the team that had given us the one loss in the year and have a chance to win the whole thing,” Jones said. “We had to capitalize on it. It was our first state championship in school history. We had to bring it back. Hopefully, we can get back there again this year.”
For a lot of top players who are anointed as stars on the AAU circuit, playing high school basketball against local teams can be considered a comedown. But, according to Goring, Jones has never looked at it or treated his time with Apple Valley that way.
“He was really pushed this past season,” Goring said. “We had never won a state basketball championship at our school in 36 years. We won 30 in a row to finish the year. He really wanted to be a part of a team that won the first state championship at our school. That was something that really pushed him this year.”
Goring said Jones does his best to distribute the ball. But he can also flip that switch and push the issue when he has to.
“He’s got some parts of his game where he can really turn it on and score,” Goring said. “A lot of times during the year, there were times when he was good at getting everybody involved. Then there were times when he needed to take over and he did that. He averaged 22 points a game. We had a good team with other kids who could score. He could push 30 a game if he wanted to.”
Jones has volunteered in his community for Feed My Starving Children and has served as a motivational speaker for elementary school children. Goring said Jones became a more natural leader as a junior.
“He took a big jump in leadership as a junior,” he said. “He was a captain as a sophomore and as a junior and will be as a senior as well. He was really vocal. He has no problem taking a kid aside – no matter how old they are – and just explaining little nuances of the game that will make them better. Some of it is on the screen-and-roll and how he wants them to roll to the basket or pick-and-pop.
“The kids look up to him. When you have his credentials, kids respect you. If you treat people properly, they will respect you even more.”
Picking A School
Jones has had several of his prospective college head coaches in for in-home visits and plans to make official visits in the fall. He and Okafor are tentatively set to visit Baylor together Aug. 31.
“I’m happy with it so far,” Jones said. “I’m really enjoying it. It’s been a great process for me and my family. We’re just taking it slow. The colleges have been great and respectful. It’s been an enjoyable process.”
In various interviews, Jones has said he would like to make a decision in time for the early signing period in November.
“That is the goal,” he said. “I want to get it out of the way. But if I’m not ready, I’m not going to rush it. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Jones’ hometown of Apple Valley is located about 20 miles south of the Twin Cities and the University of Minnesota campus. That program underwent some upheaval this spring with Tubby Smith’s firing and the hiring of former Louisville assistant and Florida International head coach Richard Pitino.
“Growing up watching them as my hometown team, playing there is something you think about since you were little,” Jones said of Minnesota. “They had the coaching change and now I am trying to build a relationship with Coach Pitino and his staff. They are kind of starting over, but they are energetic and hungry to get going.”
Goring said it is natural for fans and friends to hope that Jones stays home and plays for the Gophers.
“I think people around here selfishly want to continue to watch him play every game,” Goring said. “Our home games are packed, our road games are packed. Every game we play in, it’s full. People just really appreciate the way he plays. He gets it all the time that they would like him to stay here and play.
“Our state championship game at the Target Center (in Minneapolis), there were 13,400 people. That’s the most that have been there since 1996. That’s a compliment to him with the way he acts. He’s not a kid that will be on the floor and popping his jersey. He shows little emotion. The emotion he does show is all positive and people like that.”
The 247Sports.com Crystal Ball – where recruiting analysts predict where prospects will land – has Jones signing with Duke. Between he and Okafor, they share a major interest in Baylor, Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Here were Jones’ thoughts on his other top schools:
* On Duke: “Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) is one of the best coaches around and that kind of speaks for itself. You look at Kyrie Irving and some of the other guards they have had come through there. They have a good pedigree.”
* On Baylor: “Baylor is a good program academically. All of the schools I am looking at are good academically. With Baylor and the Big 12, they have a good coach with Scott Drew. I really like their style of play.”
* On Kansas: “They have a great place to play with great fans and a great history. I like their style of play as well.”
* On Kentucky: “They have a lot of talent of Kentucky. Plus, you look at the history of point guards who have played for Coach (John) Calipari. He’s done well with them.”
* On Michigan State: “Coach (Tom) Izzo, I look at the respect his players have for him. It goes to show what type of coach he is and how his players respect him and feel for him. It’s great for them to have a relationship with him like that.”
* On Ohio State: “With their style of play, they allow the point guard to have some freedom and play the game. That’s something that I look at when think about Ohio State.”
Click here for video highlights of Jones in action.
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