Jones maintaining a delicate balance
AV junior plays while managing a recruiting storm
Men who make seven-figure salaries hop on private jets to come and see him.
He can set a corner of the Internet ablaze with one tweet, and any statement he makes could be analyzed for days.
But he’s not a head of state, or even a celebrity who has TMZ on his trail. He’s a teenager trying to get through his junior year of high school.
He’s Tyus Jones, basketball prodigy. At the same time as he’s helping lead Apple Valley’s top-ranked boys team, he’s trying to manage a swirl of attention from college coaches, reporters and fans.
It’s not likely to change anytime soon because Jones, a point guard, is considered the prize of the 2013-14 national recruiting class. But he said earlier this week he’s learning to deal with it.
“It can be crazy, but I’m still enjoying it,” he said.
Perhaps it’s because it’s the only way he knows. “His first practice with us as an eighth-grader, (University of Minnesota) coach Tubby Smith is there to watch him,” Apple Valley coach Zach Goring said.
Just last week, John Calipari, coach of defending NCAA champion Kentucky, made a quick trip to Minnesota to see Jones. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has been here several times. Virtually every coach of every team that has a chance to land Jones has had some face time with him, somewhere.
With college basketball fans breathlessly waiting for any indication of which school he favors, Jones took to Twitter on Nov. 3 (@Tyusjones06) to say he’s narrowed his choices to Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and North Carolina.
“I got a lot of feedback about that, a lot of retweets,” he said. “Most of it was positive. It was fun, and that was one of the reasons I decided to do it over Twitter.”
It also gave him a chance to make a statement, be done with it, and get back to playing basketball. Apple Valley did not go to the state tournament in Jones’ first three seasons on varsity, which is something the Eagles are trying to change this year as they return eight of their top nine players.
But there still will be plenty of basketball celebrities – particularly college coaches – in the stands when the Eagles play this year.
Jones, his family, and Goring tried to be proactive in keeping the recruiting process from becoming a circus. That was easier before June 15 because recruiters had to go through Goring to speak with Jones. After that date, college coaches were allowed to make unlimited calls and text messages to recruits.
The Jones camp asked coaches not to bombard him with calls and texts in hopes that he could have as normal a life as possible, given his situation.
“We told coaches, ‘He knows who you are,’ ” Goring said. “It’s not a competition to see who can call him the most or send him the most texts.”
Asked if flooding his cellphone with texts would be a good way for a coach to get scratched off his list, Jones smiled and said yes, but added he hasn’t had to take that step with anybody. “It hasn’t been bad at all,” he said.
Jones has made several unofficial visits to colleges. He can take five official visits, paid for by the schools, beginning Jan. 1. Jones said he has not decided if he will take any during the high school season.
“There’s definitely an advantage to going (on official visits) during the season because you can see them play and see what the crowd is like at their home games,” he said.
He’s been careful about not tipping his hand as to which schools might be in the lead in the recruiting race. College basketball recruiting observers consider Minnesota a long shot to sign Jones, but he’s gone to Gophers games and has said they’re still in the running.
Other than revealing his finalists, about the only information he has disclosed is a desire to play at the same college as Jahlil Okafor, a 6-foot-10 center from Chicago with whom Jones has struck up a friendship. They were teammates on the U.S. team that won the world Under-17 basketball championship last summer in Lithuania. Okafor was the tournament’s MVP.
Jones, meanwhile, led Team USA in assists at the world tournament.
“He averaged about seven assists a game, playing about half the minutes,” Goring said. “I think what coaches like about him is he’s a kid who can really move the ball.”
It was Jones’ second summer of international competition, and judging by his Twitter page, the USA Basketball experience meant a lot to him. The wallpaper on that page is filled with Team USA images.
“That was very important to me,” he said. “It was a big honor to represent my country playing the sport I love. Not many people get to do that.
“It was a high level of competition. The European game is a bit different and we had to adjust, but we did.”
Jones also played with the Howard Pulley Panthers AAU basketball team in several high-profile national events. He did all that with a torn ligament in his thumb after suffering the injury during a basketball practice the day after the 2011-12 school year ended. He had surgery in August and was ready for the start of high school practice in November.
After all he’s done and seen, do high school games still give him butterflies?
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “I think you have those any time you play.”