This kid is only a sophomore?
That question kept coming to mind Friday night as Apple Valley's Tyus Jones put on a point guard clinic in a 91-84 loss to crosstown rival Eastview, the state's top-ranked team.
Jones dazzled with dribble drives, pinpoint passing and pull-up jumpers. He executed the pick-and-roll perfectly and got his shot any time he wanted.
Jones didn't disappoint the largest crowd ever for an Apple Valley home game (school doors were closed at halftime of the junior varsity game, and some fans had to sit on the floor). His final stat line: 39 points, 11 assists, one turnover, five rebounds, three steals, two blocked shots. He made all 10 free throws he shot.
"Pretty good for a point guard," Apple Valley coach Zach Goring said with a smile.
And only a sophomore. That's the amazing part.
This is not some grand revelation, of course. Jones became a varsity starter in eighth grade and now carries a national profile.
He is rated the top point guard nationally in the Class of 2014 and No. 5 sophomore prospect overall by ESPN. He has a growing list of scholarship offers, including the Gophers, Ohio State, Michigan State, Arizona, Baylor and Marquette.
College coaches flock to his games. Michigan State's Tom Izzo has watched him play several times this season. Same for Tubby Smith. Ohio State's Thad Matta is expected to be in the stands Tuesday. Duke's Mike Krzyzewski talked to him on the phone this summer and sent his assistant Jeff Capel to watch him recently.
His recruitment is only going to multiply and intensify. That's why Smith and his staff should be able to find Apple Valley blindfolded. If Jones sneezes, they should be there to hand him a tissue (provided that sort of thing is permissible in the labyrinth of NCAA rules.) The Gophers might not land Jones, but it shouldn't be because he was under-recruited.
That type of scrutiny and attention brings pressure and, unfortunately, too often skews perspective. Recruiting at the highest level can create a sense of entitlement that is fostered and fueled by all parties -- prospects, parents, coaches, fans and media. We demand that college coaches treat elite prospects in a special way (see above paragraph) and then scoff when recruits begin to think they're special. We -- myself included -- feed the machine but get angry at what it spits out.
That is what made a conversation with Jones after his game so encouraging. He comes across as an emotionally grounded kid who understands that he is a star but isn't consumed by his status. He feels the buzz circulating around him but is determined to not allow it to change him.
"I just have to stay humble," he said. "[Recruiters] are here for a reason, and I can't get big-headed about that and start bragging. That's when people around you start to not like you. I'm a team-first guy. That's just how I was raised. I was raised to be a mature young man and be respectful. I'm not out here being cocky or anything like that."
He plays with swagger but not arrogance. He scores a lot, but he's not selfish. He considers himself a pass-first point guard, but his team is so young that Jones needs to be offensive-minded.
"I just like to make the right play," he said. "If I can set up my teammates to score, that's what I want to do because it makes the game fun. That keeps them involved, keeps me involved."
Jones is the main attraction, the reason so many people come to watch. At 6-2, he's not a freak of nature physically, but he's quick with the ball in his hands and strong on the drive. He's constantly looking to beat defenders off the dribble, but that doesn't mean his outside shooting is a liability. He's worked hard to develop that part of his game. He routinely gets to school at 6:30 a.m. so that he can lift weights or shoot jumpers before class starts.
"He just puts a ton of time in," Goring said.
He has plenty of time. Watch him play and it's easy to forget he's only a sophomore. There's no telling where this will lead.
"I'm still looking at every option because a lot can happen in two years," he said. "There's so much that can happen so I'm not really ready to make a commitment. You only have this opportunity once, so you might as well make the best of it."
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org
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