And Tyus Jones always has elevated his teammates. From his eighth grade year, when he started for the Apple Valley (Minn.) High varsity squad, to a stirring 26-point performance in the state title game as a junior, Jones tends to make his way to the winner's circle.
Jones' statline in the state championship game last spring tells the story. Playing with the pressure to deliver a trophy in front of more than 13,000 fans, he calmly sunk 18-18 free throws and added 11 rebounds and eight assists to accompany his scoring total.
This season, he topped the 1,000-assist mark at Apple Valley and cemented his reputation as both a devastating scorer and playmaker. His play on the EYBL circuit never detracted from his reputation, either. Jones competes with a cold fire, the kind that burns steadily and typically doesn't spill over outwardly, yet enables him to singe opponents at the most opportune moments. That's what makes him more than a great prospect and an actual star.
He inked with Duke last fall in tandem with No. 1 center (and overall prospect) Jahlil Okafor and likely will start at point guard for the Blue Devils as a freshman. His game includes dimensions that cover nearly every aspect within a point guard's domain: leadership, perimeter shooting, scoring off the dribble, finishing, playmaking and ballhandling.
I say nearly because there's one blight on his game that could hound him in comparison to fellow senior point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and others: defense.
Jones doesn't possess the size, length or lateral quickness to defend top-shelf athletes, and he has obscured that deficiency in part due to great instincts for steals. But in terms of ball pressure — and keeping in mind how Duke prefers to defend on the perimeter — he'll face regular challenges in the ACC.
Even so, it's not as if he has shirked competitors befitting the style of player who may trouble him at the college and NBA levels. And generally, Jones has outplayed them in part because he exacts so much of a toll offensively, and also due to a preternatural sense of timing. If he makes one defensive play in a half, it's likely to be at the worst possible moment for the opponent.
Competitive timing doesn't show up in combine testing or highlight reels, but Jones excels as the master of the moment and that reality manifests on the court, time after time. His defensive limitations may actualize more significantly as a pro than as a collegian, and for that reason and many more, Jones could make a case next season as America's top freshman.