Tyus Jones grew up in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Though he is now a 6’1” point guard—at 6’6” his dad, Rob, towers over him. Tyus developed early in basketball, and by eighth grade he was a starter for the Apple Valley varsity—averaging 16.8 points and 8.1 assists. That season he received his first recruiting letter—from USC. His skills and popularity only exploded from that point, but Tyus has somehow remained humble—coming across as years beyond his age. Though he is considered one of the two best point guards in the Class of 2014, his unselfish game and his easygoing persona off-court lured even more big time coaches.
Jones tries to pattern his style somewhat after Chris Paul. “I really just try to play with poise,” Jones has said. “Being the point guard, you really have to be under control, be able to lead your team, so you can’t really be… frantic out there. I feel you have to command the game. I’m really a pass-first point guard…”
College coaches light up regarding his leadership qualities, his control of tempo, how he gets teammates the ball exactly where they need it so they can score. And, if he has to, he can take over a game from a scoring standpoint.
Jones has avoided many of the bad habits that point guards can develop. Though his personality isn’t outgoing, he takes clear command—he knows he’s a prime catalyst that should make good things happen. He does not waste minutes dribbling promiscuously. He rarely turns the ball over. Jones can lead players to make the moves they must make to score, and it’s beautiful to watch. He does not shoot the ball to pad his scoring average—only if his scoring punch is needed.
Jones’ best friend is Jahlil Okafor, a 7-foot, 265 lb. true center. Okafor was a child born of Nigerian descent. His divorced parents were Chukwudi and Dacresha, and he constantly rotated from his mom’s home in Moffett, Oklahoma and his dad’s in Chicago, Illinois. Then when he was only nine his mother contracted bronchitis, which caused a lung to collapse. Two weeks later she was dead. Okafor moved in with his dad but, even today, his greatest fear is the possibility of losing another family member. It’s tough.
When Jahlil first entered Rosemont Elementary the other kids thought he’d failed grades because of his huge size. In third grade, Jahlil and Tyus were both playing in an AAU game in Orlando. Jahlil lumbered into a restroom where Tyus was, and Tyus just stared up at the six-footer in awe. Jahlil had to laugh.
Then they met again at USA Basketball’s Developmental mini-camp when they were in eighth grade and that’s when their friendship really began to develop. They realized they had a lot in common: both families were strict, the boys were somewhat quiet by nature, both had small circles of friends, had some common interests, and didn’t especially gravitate to crowds and partying. Between Minnesota and Illinois, Tyus and Jahlil began a 400-mile friendship.
Meanwhile, Okafor was beginning to turn some heads as a 6’7” eighth-grader. He was so alluring even then that the DePaul Demons got into a bit of trouble for treading the edge of recruiting violations. That was also the year he first beat his dad in a one-on-one basketball game. His dad “retired” soon after.
Okafor’s family eventually moved to the North Side of Chicago so Jahlil could play at Whitney Young High School. Many believe that Whitney Young resembles a college team because of the highly developed athleticism and sheer size. Okafor was gaining a reputation for nimble feet, a soft touch, strong moves to the rim, leaping ability, along with a nice mid-range jumper. The summer following his sophomore year he scrimmaged with Enes Cantor of the Utah Jazz and dominated.
Listing the honors and awards of either of these guys would reach far beyond the scope of this article. It is their friendship that is remarkable. They like and trust one another. They touch base often, whether by phone, email, or whatever. Tyus says that sometimes Jahlil tries to mess with him—almost like the bullying older brother, but they know when enough is enough. Their friendship has led to some amusing situations. During a game, one ref who was not aware of their friendship sternly commanded them to knock it off when they began trash-talking each other. They could only smile.
Well, now we’ve got the privilege of having these quality guys at Duke for at least a year. It’s going to be fun to see them play together and also mesh with a new group of players. It could be an exceptional year for Blue Devil basketball.