Minnesota high school basketball will make its ESPN debut on Thursday night. The cameras will come to Apple Valley for a showdown between future Duke teammates Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor.
Jones’ Apple Valley team and Okafor’s Whitney Young High School (Chicago) will tip off at 6 p.m. in front of ESPN2’s national audience and a sold-out Apple Valley gymnasium.
The channel is available on most Twin Cities cable television packages.
“It’s good for Minnesota and our high school to get a chance to have a game on ESPN. It’s a great opportunity,” Jones said. “It’ll be really fun, really exciting, and there will be a lot of energy.”
The national broadcast comes just three months after ESPN came to St. Paul for a football game between Cretin-Derham Hall and Stillwater. The interest in the Twin Cities is a result of its growing crop of nationally hyped talent.
Cretin-Derham Hall’s defensive end Jashon Cornell is rated the Class of 2015’s No. 1 player by ESPN. Jones has been ranked as high as No. 1 in ESPN’s boys’ basketball ratings and is currently No. 4 overall.
ESPNU recently traveled to Apple Valley for Jones’ college announcement. He and Okafor, a 6-11 center rated No. 1 in the country, made their decision together on a split TV screen. They’ll return to TV together on Thursday as a result of ambitious thinking.
The two national standouts and Apple Valley coach Zach Goring came up with the idea and pitched it to Whitney Young nearly two years ago. Their pitch not only caught the attention of coaches and school administrators but also ESPN.
The network called Goring last December inquiring about broadcasting one of the Eagles’ games. Goring shared that he and Whitney Young coach Ty Slaughter had been in discussions about a game and ESPN jumped aboard.
Duke’s coaching staff, including head coach Mike Krzyzewski, is even intrigued by the matchup and will attend Thursday’s game, Jones said.
The game is part of what ESPN is calling the GEICO ESPN High School Basketball Showcase. It is 12 games across their ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU networks and includes nine of the nation’s top 10 recruits.
“We’re really excited about having the showcase at our school. It’s going to be a neat deal,” Goring said. “We’ll try to catch our breath [after it’s all over], but my thought is these experiences [big games] are what high school basketball is all about.”
Apple Valley enters the game 5-0, with victories over several top Minnesota programs, including DeLaSalle and Hopkins. The Eagles are ranked No. 16 in the nation by MaxPreps and No. 41 by USA Today.
Whitney Young is 1-1 after dropping its season opener to a team from Southern California. The Dolphins are unranked in MaxPreps’ poll but are No. 34 in USA Today’s rankings. They started the season ranked No. 5 after returning three Division I-bound seniors. Paul White, a 6-8 power forward, is ranked No. 64 among ESPN Top 100 recruits and has signed with Georgetown.
Jones and Okafor have faced off before in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. Each has defeated the other. Thursday’s game marks one final chance to play as opponents before joining forces at Duke next season.