Sophomore Tyus Jones has top college programs keenly watching him. But the modest kid just wants Apple Valley to succeed.
Apple Valley's Tyus Jones looked for an open shot between Eastview's Ben Oberfeld (left) and Joey King (right). Eastview won the game 57-53 to win the Class 4A, Section 3 boys' basketball title and earn a spot in the state tournament.
At 16 years old, Apple Valley's Tyus Jones already has criss-crossed the continent and played in some of the most notable youth basketball tournaments available.
Dallas. Los Angeles. South Carolina, for the high-profile Peach Jam Invitational. Even Cancun, Mexico, where last summer he stood on the podium, accepting a gold medal for leading Team USA to the World Under-16 Championships title.
Last Friday night, however, Jones was right where he wanted to be, in a stifling Burnsville High School gym, making plays and elevating his team in ways that made him the Star Tribune's 2012 Metro Player of the Year in boys' basketball.
At game's end, the sophomore point guard was prone on the court, agonizing over a potential game-tying shot that missed in the closing seconds as Apple Valley fell to Eastview 57-53 in the Class 4A, Section 3 championship game.
A state tournament berth had slipped away, made even more painful by the fact that the Eagles lost to their biggest rival.
"That," Jones said, "was a tough night."
Perhaps, but Apple Valley would not have been mere seconds away from a section championship without him.
Under his leadership, he took an undersized, slightly above average Apple Valley team and gave it big dreams. He did everything that was asked of him -- and much was asked -- taking on the primary scoring role despite his pass-first instincts.
It turned out to be a role that suited him well; he led the metro in scoring, averaging 28.2 points per game.
"My job is to make my teammates better," Jones said. "I just tried to do what the team needs."
Jones's yo-yo dribble, explosive first step and Mensa-worthy basketball IQ have made him one of the most sought-after high school players in Minnesota history.
Recruiting websites nationwide regularly contact him, trying to nudge him toward their preferred team. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Gophers coach Tubby Smith are regulars at his games. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has called him.
But in an era of chest-thumping, what's-in-it-for-me players, Jones stands apart with his humility.
He knows he could likely find greater prep basketball success elsewhere, but that doesn't interest him.
"When I first started playing for Apple Valley in eighth grade, people were always coming up to me and saying, 'You're going to transfer,' " said Jones, furrowing his brow. "But I always wanted to stay here. I don't need to go somewhere else when I can become the player I can be right here."
It's a challenge Jones relishes. Despite all the accolades, honors and invitations -- he will likely be playing for Team USA in the World Under-17 Championships in Lithuania this summer -- he is determined to bring success to Apple Valley.
It's about things more important than wins and losses and personal gain, he said. It's about loyalty. It's about home.
"My family is here," Jones said. "They're the ones always supporting me and helping me along. The guys on my team are the guys I grew up with, playing together since traveling [team] days. We know that if we can just keep it together, we can be successful."