The clock ticked past 4 a.m., but Tyus Jones’ family felt too overcome with emotion to sleep.
Hours after Jones, the former Apple Valley basketball prodigy, put on a breathtaking performance to lead the Duke Blue Devils to college basketball’s national championship Monday night, his family crammed into his mother’s Indianapolis hotel room to share in the celebration.
The group relived every play, every big shot by Jones, from a performance that will be remembered as one the best in NCAA tournament history.
“It was kind of cool after everything had calmed down, it was like, ‘Did that just happen?’ ” said Jadee Jones, Tyus’ older brother.
It did indeed happen — in front of roughly 71,000 fans and 28 million television viewers no less — and Jones will see himself on the cover of this week’s Sports Illustrated if he needs a reminder. Jones, a freshman point guard, scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half to propel Duke to a 68-63 comeback victory over the Wisconsin Badgers.
His signature moment — a late-game three-pointer that gave Duke some breathing room — was captured on the cover of SI: Eyes wide, mouth open, arms extended to his side with a “Can you believe this?” look. Jones’ celebration was directed at his family.
“I was making the same face,” said Jadee, 29, Apple Valley’s junior varsity coach. “I was screaming just as hard.”
So, too, were fans in Jones’ hometown who celebrated along with him from afar.
“I cried,” said Michelle Lundquist, an Apple Valley math teacher sporting her No. 5 Duke jersey in honor of Jones early Tuesday morning. “It’s so hard to put into words what he does for this school, and what he did for this community. He’s really brought us together, as a group. And to see him actually achieve his goals and get what he wanted out of life, it was amazing. And to see him break down emotionally at the end — I broke down emotionally at the end.”
Jones, 18, brought national attention to his city, high school and basketball program as a prep star. He led Apple Valley to a state title as a junior and received scholarship offers from the top programs as the nation’s No. 1 ranked point guard. He started on Apple Valley’s varsity team as an eighth-grader, so the community developed a strong connection to him over those five years.
“His success goes beyond our school,” Apple Valley coach Zach Goring said. “It’s throughout basketball in the entire state of Minnesota. He has always treated people the right way, so a lot of people feel connected to him. That’s a credit to Tyus.”
There was still a buzz Tuesday about Jones’ performance at Buffalo Wild Wings in Apple Valley, a location Jones once brought friend and Duke teammate Jahlil Okafor to after the two faced off in a much-hyped high school game.
“There is definitely a hangover from last night,” said bartender Kevin Baudreau, who also worked during the game. “It’s not often you get a chance to watch a player in high school win a national championship in college and be the star. It’s pretty special.”
Mike Gantt of Eagan was part of the Monday night crowd that exchanged “Tyus” and Apple Valley chants, as well as Badgers cheers.
“There were a lot of people torn last night watching the game,” Gantt said. “There were people rooting for Wisconsin as well as the hometown kid. People that were cheering for Tyus weren’t necessarily Duke fans.”
“The people of Apple Valley really showed up in support of the hometown kid [Monday],” Baudreau added.
The Blue Devils’ championship capped a memorable month for the Jones family. Jones’ younger brother, Tre, led Apple Valley to the Class 4A state title in March as a freshman. On Monday, Tyus led Duke to the national title in his first college season, a performance Jadee described as “surreal.” Congratulatory messages poured into his family’s phones. Debbie Jones, Tyus’ mother, was still sending text message replies at 4:45 a.m.
“It was almost a little tiring trying to keep up with them,” Jadee said.
Their only regret was that they were unable to watch the entire game again in the room. With a long drive back home from Indianapolis ahead, the party broke up at 4:30 a.m. Family members hugged Tyus and headed for their rooms.
“I told a friend that we couldn’t have written the story making it up ourselves,” Jadee said.
It is a true story, though, one that Apple Valley and nearly 30 million others will remember.
Ron Haggstrom and Vineeta Sawkar contributed to this report.