Televised announcement ends long recruiting process
No one knows yet who will finish the 2013-14 season as No. 1 in men’s college basketball, but Duke likely nabbed the No. 1 preseason ranking for 2014-15.
The Blue Devils’ prospects for next season became even brighter when two of the top four high school recruits in the class of 2014 – Apple Valley High School senior Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor of Chicago – announced Friday afternoon they would sign with Duke. They made their announcements, one after the other, on a program broadcast nationally by ESPNU. Jones’ announcement also drew several hundred people to the AVHS gym.
In signing with Duke, Jones and Okafor followed through on a pledge they made a couple of years ago at a USA Basketball tryout camp that they would attend the same college. They were teammates on a U.S. squad that won the Under-17 world championship in 2012.
“We had a final talk (Thursday) night,” Jones said. “We went back and forth, every day.”
“We just tried to figure out what would be the best fit for both of us, where we could have an impact our freshman year,” Jones added.
Duke and Kansas were believed to be the last two schools in the running for Jones and Okafor. Both also were considering Baylor, and Jones said saying no to Baylor was a little painful because he has a cousin on the staff there (former Hopkins High School player Jared Nuness, who is Baylor’s director of player development). Minnesota was a longshot to get Jones, especially because Okafor was not considering the Gophers.
Jones is the No. 4-ranked player by ESPN in the class of 2014 and the top-ranked point guard. Okafor, a 6-foot-11 center who plays for Whitney Young High School, is the overall top-ranked player.
Needing to fight back tears on several occasions Friday afternoon, Jones thanked his family as well as his teammates and coaches, both at AVHS and the Howard Pulley Panthers AAU team.
He made the Apple Valley varsity as an eighth-grader and became the Eagles’ starting point guard. He said he got his first recruiting letter from a college in the middle of his eighth-grade year. “That made me want to work hard and be the best I could be,” Jones said.
“This was the longest process I’ve ever seen,” said Apple Valley boys basketball coach Zach Goring.
When Jones was an eighth-grader, “Our first day in the gym – and it was my first year as head coach – there was a knock on the door,” Goring recalled. “I didn’t want anybody else in the gym, but it was Tubby Smith from the University of Minnesota.”
From that point on, college coaches became regular visitors to Apple Valley practices and games. Goring said he never saw it distract Jones from what he was doing with the high school team.
“He was always able to keep that separate,” Goring said. “And there were times when that was tough, dealing with 15-20 schools, exchanging texts with coaches. If it bothered him, he never showed it. He was always very even-keeled.”
Following each of Jones’ first four high school seasons, Goring said he gave him something to work on. After eighth grade, he was asked to get stronger. After ninth-grade, the coach wanted him to be more of a factor on defense. After his sophomore year, Goring asked him to improve his perimeter shooting. For this season, Goring asked Jones to take on a stronger leadership role. Jones was one of the Eagles’ captains last year and is their sole captain in 2013-14 as they defend their state Class 4A championship.
Apple Valley assistant coach Jadee Jones said he watched his younger brother mature over the last few years, particularly when it came to making the improvements necessary to attract the attention of top-level college basketball programs. There came a point where “he just evolved from agreeing with that process to believing in it,” Jadee Jones said.
“In a literal sense, he does have kind of a big head,” Jadee Jones added, drawing laughter from the crowd. “But he’s always been humble. During this process, he ended up being able to show his character.”