All the wins, all the awards, all the attention that come with being the most recruited player in the state of Minnesota? Tyus Jones will tell you none of that prepared him for Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“You can’t explain it until you’re there and you feel it,” he said.
He’s getting used to it.
On Friday, Jones was doing the returning-hero routine at Apple Valley High School.
A year ago Jones was Apple Valley’s point guard, the subject of an absurdly intense recruitment process, working his way toward becoming the state’s Mr. Basketball. Friday he was back home with his family, sitting in the stands to watch his younger brother, Tre, play for the Eagles against Farmington.
What a few months this has been.
Jones is now the starting point guard for second-ranked Duke. He is one of three freshmen starting for the undefeated Blue Devils — Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow are the others. Not 24 hours before Jones walked through the doors at his former high school Friday, he was in the process of scoring a team-high 21 points for Duke in a 66-56 victory over defending champion Connecticut at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, N.J.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Jones said in an interview that came between handshakes and hugs from fans and friends, “to wear the Duke jersey and represent such a prestigious school and team. All the tradition that goes into Duke, to be a part of that — that really means a lot.’’
It might be a long way from Durham, N.C. to Apple Valley, and Jones might have taken a quantum leap from a high school star to a college freshman on the rise, but on this night it was about coming home. He sat a few rows up at center court with his mother, cheering on his brother and his old team.
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Jones still is connected to the program. He watches live streams of their games when possible. He talks to his brother before every game. He still gets the e-mail with the game tapes from Apple Valley coach Zach Goring.
And, of course, he’s never far from his family. He talks to his mom and brother daily. He couldn’t wait to get on an early flight back to Minnesota on Friday morning.
“He just gets it,” Debbie Jones said of her son. “He understands the work he’s had to put in, continues to put in. He continues to grow and work hard in school, in basketball, in life. I’ve been saying this a long time, but he just gets it.”
Jones said it really hit him that he was actually about to play for Duke during “Countdown to Craziness,’’ Duke’s version of midnight madness. The fans, the excitement?
“It really gave you an idea what it was going to be like playing for Duke.’’
And then there was his first game, a steamroll of Presbyterian, when Jones scored the first two points. He has not looked back.
Jones, who is averaging 10.9 points and 5.3 assists, has come up big in big games. He had 17 points and four assists in a victory over Michigan State. He had 22 points and four assists as Duke took down Wisconsin, then ranked second, in Madison. Then Thursday, he scored 21 more.
“We’re getting to the point where nothing surprises us with him,” Goring said. “I didn’t know if he’d be able to score like he’s scoring. But man, he had 21 last night.’’
Friday he was back home.
“It’s very weird. It’s crazy to think about the type of game I just played in. But coming back home puts it in perspective.”
For a while, anyway. Because, if he keeps playing like this, the next question he’ll have to get used to answering is whether he’ll be in next summer’s NBA draft.
Too much, too soon.
“Plenty of season left,” he said. “All the focus is on my Duke team right now.”