You didn't have to be a scout to pick out Tyus Jones from a lineup of precocious hoops talents. Dating back to the 2010 Peach Jam, when Jones competed for Howard Pulley's 16-under squad — for perspective, that was the year Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist proved to be the 17-under standouts — the slender Minnesota guard boasted obvious blue-chip ability.
That first summer, after playing varsity for Apple Valley high as an eighth grader, Jones demonstrated advanced skill, smarts and poise for one so young. He was two years young even for the 16-under tournament, but from the opening tip he was one of the most effective players on his team.
And he never took a backward step. He picked up early offers from Minnesota and Iowa, and by the time he reached his sophomore year Iowa State, Michigan State, Ohio State, Arizona, Baylor and Providence followed suit.
Recruitment aside, he enjoyed immense success both for Apple Valley and Howard Pulley. He became a genuine 17-under attraction in 2012, proving to be one of the best EYBL performers regardless of class. His exploits drew the attention of essentially every major program, as it has been clear for more than two years that he could throw a dart and commit likely to any school the tip punctured.
His junior season brought his second straight state player of the year award, and with blue-chip scorer Rashad Vaughn (who transferred to Findley Prep in Nevada) no longer a threat, he's highly likely to finish his prep career a three-time winner.
Now to the horserace. Jones continued to list Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Minnesota, Baylor, Michigan State and Ohio State, and he set plans to visit the Blue Devils, Jayhawks, Bears and Wildcats officially.
There's also that package deal. Jones had traveled unofficially to Durham with No. 1 senior Jahlil Okafor, and they returned in an official capacity on October 25. Many speculated that Mike Krzyzewski's program held the edge, and ultimately Duke won out for the elite duo.
In a combine setting, Jones won't cause jaws to drop. He's a good basketball athlete, but his status always has orbited around his uncanny production. He has proved that you don't have to be a step faster to remain a step ahead.
His complement of skills is easy enough to describe, but his instincts must be observed to be appreciated. Somehow, someway, he consistently finds room for an open shot, creates seams in defenses or spots a wide open teammate at the exact moment he breaks free of a defender. Jones' lightning-fast processor allows him to play a slower, more methodical mental game than others, making his actions appear faster than they actually are.
And as mentioned, his skill level alone places him as an elite. Jones is a fantastic perimeter shooter capable of knocking down multiple consecutive threes, and he's also a quick driver who handles extremely well and can score moving in either direction. His body control may be his most impressive athletic quality, as he can stop suddenly and enter directly into his shot.
His playmaking ability also is superlative. He's a tremendous passer who, thanks to his sure-handed dribbling, can advance the ball into a favorable position even against intense pressure to make the right play. And although he feels comfortable as a dominant scorer, he doesn't get caught up in his own statistical production and will defer as necessary.
Temperamentally, Jones is an assassin. He's an unflappable competitor who even as a very young player seemed unconcerned with the usual trivialities that influence teenaged athletes.
First, he isn't very big. Jones' height will be fine for college, but how about the NBA? Because he's getting ranked alongside taller (on a positional basis) players such as Emmanuel Mudiay and Myles Turner, that's a valid question.
There's also the athleticism issue. While far from a slouch, Jones doesn't boast the same explosive quickness and finishing ability as exhibited by Emmanuel Mudiay, Rashad Vaughn and others. To what extent will he be able to compensate with his other qualities?
Jones does a great job racking up steals on defense, but he sometimes struggles against quick penetrators. That’s an area that's likely to become problematic at various points during his career, and he has to hope he can maximize his defense using his intelligence and, of course, that he gives better than he gets on the other end.
Jones is that rare elite prospect who may need more than one year of college. Don't necessarily bet on that, but his size and athleticism don't fit the modern, ideal NBA mold.
For college, however, he's a top-shelf prospect for however long he resides on a campus. His scoring, playmaking, confidence and ability to tailor a given contest to his own strengths nearly ensure that he'll enjoy massive success.
Looking to the distant future, he projects to enjoy NBA prosperity as well. He does have some limiting factors that could hinder him there, but not every great pro is a great athlete. And to this point, Jones effectively has navigated every obstacle in his path.