Longtime friends Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor displayed their immense skills before becoming college teammates.
Tyus Jones made it all happen, with his no-look, gotta-watch passes.
His skill brought Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to Minnesota on a cold December night.
His friendship with Jahlil Okafor, the star center for Chicago’s Whitney Young High School, led to a game against Okafor’s team at Apple Valley High.
Jones’ development into the best high school point guard in the nation enticed ESPN2 to make Thursday’s game the first Minnesota high school basketball game televised nationally.
Jones made it all happen, everything but a victory that would have given him temporary bragging rights over his buddy, as Apple Valley lost to Young 80-70 in front of a sellout crowd.
Within that loss was the stuff of dreams, for Krzyzewski and Minnesotans who will follow Jones’ career.
Next year, Jones and Okafor, who says they are best friends, will play together at Duke. Jones, Okafor and Krzyzewski probably spent the night imagining Jones’ deft passes landing the large hands of Okafor, who scored most of his 22 points on emphatic dunks.
“Those two are going to be a treat next year,” Apple Valley coach Zach Goring said. “They’re perfect for each other. Some of those alley-oops to Jahlil were unbelievable.”
“I’ve been dreaming about those since we decided to go to college together,” Okafor said.
Jones is the classic pass-first point guard, and Okafor is the stereotypical powerful post, but both are talented enough to adapt to other roles.
Jones spent most of the first half looking for his teammates. He had four points at intermission, so Goring decided to use Jones’ little brother, eighth-grader Tre, as the point guard in the second half, allowing Jones to try to crack Young’s Syracuse-like 2-3 zone from the paint.
The result: 25 second-half points for Jones, who finished with 29 points, five rebounds and six assists.
The 6-10 Okafor produced 22 points and 15 rebounds, and even dribbled between his legs while leading a fast break.
“It was extremely fun,” Tyus Jones said. “We had a great environment and atmosphere. The fans were great tonight. So I just want to thank them. Our team played hard. It was just a fun experience for us all.”
Krzyzewski declined an interview request, saying, “This is their night.” He sat courtside and often looked as animated when Okafor fell or Jones scored as he does on the sideline at Cameron Indoor Stadium. He’ll be the beneficiary of his recruits’ friendship.
They committed to Duke simultaneously, on split screens. They planned to dine together with their families Thursday night.
“I think it’s just through basketball,” Okafor said about the friendship. “I’ve known him since the third grade, and we’re so similar off the court. He’s a pretty quiet kid. He’s my best friend.”
Befitting their relationship, the game was frequently spectacular and never contentious. The future Dukies didn’t speak much on the court, except in the language of one-upsmanship.
In the second half, the two countered like boxers.
First Jones blocked a shot, drove the length of the court, drew a foul and hit two free throws.
Okafor answered with a dunk.
Jones hit a three-pointer.
Okafor answered with a dunk.
Jones hit a three-pointer while drawing the foul.
Jones continued his surge with a couple of free throws and a long three-pointer before Young started whittling away at the clock.
“It was a fun game, and to get a chance to play on [ESPN2] is something these guys will remember forever,” Goring said. “Sure, it would have been fun to win, but they have a great team, with three Division I players.
“We’ve been spoiled with Tyus for five years now. Almost all of the people who were in the gym tonight, it’s like that almost every single game. We play in front of full houses.”
No Minnesota prospect has attracted as much attention as Jones since Minneapolis North’s Khalid El-Amin prepared himself to win an NCAA title at Connecticut, and even El-Amin wasn’t as renowned as Jones.
“I was excited for Apple Valley tonight,” Jones said. “Apple Valley has earned that.”
Then he headed toward the cold, toward dinner with his old friend and future teammate.
“High school ball is way different than AAU ball,” he said. “It’s your town, your people. So it was special.”
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org