A year ago at this time, Tyus Jones acted as a billboard for the EYBL stop in Minneapolis.
Local basketball fans would stay loyal to the event at the High Performance Academy year after year, but in the seasons Jones played, things were different. Watching Howard Pulley meant lowering your shoulder, battering through a mob of bodies to Court No. 5 and peering over heads to catch a glimpse of the player who was ultimately ranked No. 4 in the 2014 class by ESPN and No. 1 at his position. Each summer, the city was painted red with Tyus Mania.
Now, in his absence, that attention has fallen to the next man up: Jarvis Johnson. But Jones hasn't gone far, at least not yet. On Saturday, the Duke commit sat on the Howard Pulley bench, much like an assistant coach, talking with and cheering on his former teammates.
Johnson, a fellow point guard and heir to the hysteria, holds a particularly special connection.
"Jarvis is like my little brother," Jones said of the gym rat counterpart he's known since the third grade. "I talk to him a lot, just really working with him, trying to help out as much as I can, especially with him kind of being the main focal point on the team. That's kind of where I was last year and he's kind of stepping in to fill those shoes, so I'm kind of helping him and working with him. I just want to see him successful."
Jones said the two have talked about working out together but so far this summer, haven't made it happen. Still, the elder has acted as something of a mentor for Johnson, who is in the unique position of having played with two top-30 recruits, both of whom are unusually mature and well-spoken for their years. Beyond sharing a position with Jones, Johnson played with Reid Travis (No. 27 in the 2014 class according to ESPN) both in AAU and at DeLaSalle High School.
Sometimes the two will talk Xs and Os. On Saturday morning, Jones was giving the guard Rivals currently ranks 85th in the 2015 class tips on how to bring the ball down the court in order to get a better angle on the awaiting screen. Perhaps just as valuable is the advice Jones dispenses about the attention from coaches and media, considering he's been through an extreme version of recruitment. Johnson is currently being recruited by a slew of high major schools, including Kansas, Michigan State, Wisconsin, UCLA and Minnesota.
"We talk about how he's definitely starting to get more interest and he's getting looked at by more coaches," Jones said. "I think he's handling the process extremely well. He's got a great support system and I think that's really the key. That made my recruiting process easy. He's got a lot of people in his corner.
"He's matured over the years. I think that comes with just more experience and just time. He's just matured as a player and a person, both on and off the court. It's weird to not be playing with him now, but it's also good to kind of take a step back and watch him do his thing."
Said Johnson, earlier this month: "He still shows me things I could be working on. So it's like he's still there but I've taken over now."
Soon, Jones will have to keep tabs from a distance. On June 29, the 6-1 floor general leaves for Duke, where he'll meet up with another long-time friend, Chicago's Jahlil Okafor, who committed to the Blue Devils with Jones in a rare package deal.
"I'm real excited," Jones said. "It's something we've been looking forward to and wanted to make happen the past couple of years and now it's a couple weeks away.
"I think [I'm] just [excited about] getting in the swing of things. Getting down there. I'm in summer school so I'll be taking some classes and I'll start working out and just kind of get in a regular college routine."
Jones seems more than ready for the transition. His unique poise and court vision promises to make him a game-changer for the Blue Devils instantly. Moving away from Minnesota, though -- his home town of Apple Valley and all of the kids he's played with over the years -- will bring new challenges.
"Growing up, I've been in Minnesota my whole life and North Carolina isn't close," Jones said. "It'll be tough, but those guys down there [in Durham] are like my family and it's a really close-knit group, including the coaches. So I'll feel right at home down there. It may be different, but I'll get used to it pretty quickly."