Tyus Jones, a 6-foot-2 junior point guard from Apple Valley who is ranked #1 in the country by ESPN, returned from a back injury to lead the Eagles to wins over Eastview Friday and Cooper Saturday at the Target Center. GopherHole.com caught up with Jones to learn the latest on his season and recruitment.
Gopher Hole: What was the atmosphere like playing at the Target Center?
Tyus Jones: It was a good atmosphere. A bunch of people came out for the game, so it was a lot of fun to be able to play at the Target Center.
Gopher Hole: How different is it from playing in your high school gym with a packed gym?
Tyus Jones: It is a little different. The court is bigger. You get winded a little bit easier and it is an arena compared to a high school gym, so it is bigger, but I liked it. It was a lot of fun and we enjoyed ourselves out there.
Gopher Hole: You had a couple of big names coaches out there in Tubby Smith and Roy Williams. Did you notice them or do you try not to?
Tyus Jones: You try not to. There has been a couple of circumstances that I have some coaches there, so you try to just play your game and tune them out. Try not to focus on that and help your team out.
Gopher Hole: You are kind of used to it by now, right?
Tyus Jones: A little bit. (Laughing).
Gopher Hole: What was it like playing against Rashad Vaughn?
Tyus Jones: It was good. Rashad is a good player. Extremely talented. Puts the ball in the basket and as you can see, he did that today. We had other guys step up and we took it as a group effort.
Gopher Hole: You guys don’t play each other that often since you are in different AAU circuit. When was the last time you even played against him?
Tyus Jones: In a real game, I couldn’t even tell you. We scrimmaged them this year preseason and a couple of other times, but I couldn’t even remember the last time I played him in an official game.
Gopher Hole: There was a lot of people talking about a matchup between you and him one-on-one with Vaughn, but how do you put that aside and know that this is just another game, even though it is the Timberwolves Shootout?
Tyus Jones: It is still a big game. A lot of people were talking about that. Like you said, it is still another game, so you have to come out with a main focus of trying to win and that is what I did. Getting my teammates involved is what I do best. I try to do that and we all bought into the system today and we got the job done.
Gopher Hole: In the early part of the game, Rashad stole the show, but you managed the game and showed why you are an unselfish point guard. Do you think that came through today?
Tyus Jones: I think so. He scores the ball. Everyone knows that and that was what he was doing today. He was hitting some good shots. Some tough shots as well, but that was what I was trying to do, manage the game. I’m just coming back off an injury. I’m not trying to over-do it. Just manage the game. They made a run there, so I tried to calm the team down and get things back under control and let us go on our run and that’s what happened.
Gopher Hole: Your team went on a 31-9 run. Is their a magic moment where you sense that as a player and decide now it is time to turn on the switch?
Tyus Jones: Yes, there was a moment in the game. I think that we were down five and we had fouled one of their posts and I was kind of out towards halfcourt a little bit. We had Harry Sonie and Dustin Fronk in the corners and I told Dennis (Austin) to hit me with the outlet because I knew that we were going to have an advantage, if he missed the free throw. Luckily, he missed the free throw. I got the outlet, dribbled and hit Dustin Fronk in the corner and he hit a three and cut it to two. I feel that the momentum kind of swung our way when that happened and I think that it gave us some energy.
Gopher Hole: What is your mindset when it is this ballyhooed matchup versus Vaughn? You don’t really see one another on the court. Do you take stock into that or did you just try to focus on your game?
Tyus Jones: I just tried to concentrate on my game. We are different players, so it is a matchup, but I just tried to concentrate on my game and ways I can help my team win.
Gopher Hole: There is a long list of NBA players and college players who have played in the Timberwolves Shootout. Is this something that you will look back on as being a special day in your career?
Tyus Jones: Yes, not a lot of teams get this opportunity. Only five Minnesota teams got to play today. I’ve had the opportunity to play here twice now, so it is real fun. It is a special event and something I enjoy.
Gopher Hole: How good can your team be? You won several games when you were sidelined with the back spasms. What does that tell you about the team?
Tyus Jones: We just stepped up. Guys stepped up and I think that tells a lot about our team. Facing adversity and bouncing back. Backups just trying to come in and do my job and do my role. I think that we are looking to be a very talented team.
Gopher Hole: It seems like on the court you are always looking for somebody else. Whether you are looking to score or create an opportunity to set someone else up. Is that your mentality as a player?
Tyus Jones: Yes. My eyes are always up. That is just how I play the game. I take what the defense give you. Being able to score the ball can open up things for your teammates and just making the easy passes is not always easy for some people, but I just like to make the right play and that is just how I approach the game.
Gopher Hole: Recruitment, is it stressful? Is it fun?
Tyus Jones: It has been fun so far. It is not as stressful. The intensity is definitely picking up the older you get and the closer to your senior year, the intensity definitely picks up. It hasn’t been a problem, as of yet.
Gopher Hole: As on January 1st, junior can start taking official visits. Have you thought about any that you are going to take yet or will you wait until the end of the season?
Tyus Jones: Not going to take any officials during the season. Haven’t thought of taking any as of yet. Don’t know where I’ll be taking any officials.
Gopher Hole: There was so much hype around this game. What was it like once you took the court? Could you tell the difference?
Tyus Jones: There was a lot of energy in the arena. A lot of people came out and supported. It was a lot fun. A big game for us as well as for Cooper, so it was a big time game. Had a lot of fun, though.
Gopher Hole: Playing against Rashad, what was that like with the top two recruits in Minnesota?
Tyus Jones: It was good. Good game. Both competitive, in myself and Rashad. We both didn’t want our team to lose, so this game meant a lot to both sides of it, so it was good.
Gopher Hole: Did you feel that friendly competition?
Tyus Jones: Definitely. We are coming out, trying to play our best, myself and him. You could definitely see a case of urgency out there.
Gopher Hole: One of the biggest games in Minnesota basketball that you have played?
Tyus Jones: Yes, I think so. Any game that you play in the Target Center is a big game because you don’t get the opportunity to play here all the time, so it was a good game for us.
Gopher Hole: Coming into this game there was so much hype. Did you think about it last night (Friday) or even today?
Tyus Jones: Not as much last night. I had another game to worry about last night. My first game back from a back injury, so I was pretty focused on that game. Today I was thinking about it and was getting ready and focused for it.
Gopher Hole: Are their nerves that come with such a big game?
Tyus Jones: I wouldn’t say nerves. I would say it is more anxious. Just want to get to game time already. Want to get playing and on the floor.
Gopher Hole: Do you feel that it lived up to the hype?
Tyus Jones: Definitely. I think it was a good game. Both teams came out and played well. Back and forth. I think the fans enjoyed it.
Gopher Hole: At what point in the game did you decide to take over?
Tyus Jones: I think that it was just a point in the game where they went on their run and got us down. There was sense of urgency. Had to turn it up a notch, so I tried to do that.
Gopher Hole: Have you had that type of urgency this year? You haven’t been down much this season?
Tyus Jones: We have. We got down in Hopkins game. I was not in, but we got down and battled back. I was proud of the guys and how they didn’t quit and how we kept fighting as a team.
Gopher Hole: Do you feel that you have something to prove in a game like this with Rashad out there?
Tyus Jones: No, I don’t think that you have something to prove. It is pretty much just another game. You have to try and go out there and win, ultimately. I think that every game you want to play well, obviously, but this is a big game and coming out with a win is the most important thing
Gopher Hole: Did you get a chance to say anything to him after the game?
Tyus Jones: After, we talked. We gave each other a hug. We grew up playing together, so we know each other. It was good competition.
Gopher Hole: He said after the game that he is amazed by how well you finish. Does he amaze you at all?
Tyus Jones: Definitely. He hit some shots that not a lot of guys at any level can hit. He just puts the ball in the basket. That is why he is ranked as the top shooting guard in the nation. He shoots the ball and that is what he did today. He can stroke it.
Gopher Hole: What do you think a game like this does for Minnesota high school basketball? There has probably hasn’t been anything like this.
Tyus Jones: I think it was good. The fact that it was a good overall game is what makes it even better. Both teams were fighting. Loose balls. No runs. Everything that you look for to have a great game, that still happened today.
Gopher Hole: Does him being on the court as the number one shooting guard in 2014 ever make you think of what it would be like if you were on the same court playing as a team?
Tyus Jones: Definitely. I think that you think about that, especially if you are from the same state and knowing each other. It is something to definitely consider and think about.
Gopher Hole: Is that something that you have ever talked about?
Tyus Jones: Maybe a little bit, but not a lot.
Gopher Hole: Have you even thought about when you would commit? Would you commit and sign in the early signing period or sign in April? Have you thought that far yet?
Tyus Jones: No, I haven’t thought that far yet.
Gopher Hole: The next five questions were submitted by Gopher Hole readers. If you could pick one thing about your game that makes you stand out compared to other players, what would it be?
Tyus Jones: I think the ability to see the floor and make the right play. Something as far as basketball IQ.
Gopher Hole: What has the whole recruiting process been like for you so far? Are you enjoying it or will you be glad when it is over?
Tyus Jones: I am enjoying it, but I can definitely feel why recruits tend to commit to get the pressure off of them, but I am enjoying it so far.
Gopher Hole: Where would you like to be in five years?
Tyus Jones: Playing basketball somewhere at some level, whether collegiate or professionally somewhere.
Gopher Hole: Which past Gopher player does your game most resemble or which player was your favorite growing up?
Tyus Jones: I can’t say that I had a favorite Gopher player.
Gopher Hole: What school is your mom’s favorite?
Tyus Jones: I don’t think she has one. I think that she pretty much likes them all. She has a good relationship with the coaches as well as I do. She has liked all of them. I don’t think that she has a favorite.