NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. - Tyus Jones wrapped up his summer tour de force with a tremendous showing at the Nike Peach Jam.
Jones, the nation's No. 1 point guard for the class of 2014 according to Rivals.com, led the Peach Jam in scoring at 25.8 points per game. He helped lead his Howard Pulley Panthers team out of pool play and into the playoffs, where they lost on Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League's premier event.
Jones' numbers are even more impressive when considering his efficiency. He led the tournament in 3-point accuracy, shooting 66.7 percent from long range. He also ranked No. 7 in the tournament in overall field goal percentage at 63.3.
Those figures surprised no one, and weren't even his areas of emphasis in the closing weeks of the summer circuit.
"What I focused on with him is just verbal leadership," said Panthers coach Antwan Harris. "Basketball-wise, he has skills and a great mind. He has to focus on his verbal leadership. Before, he wanted to lead on the floor quietly, and that was his way of leading. But I told him if he wanted to become a great player he had to become more vocal at the point guard position and he is growing into that position very well."
Jones was extremely vocal this week at Peach Jam. In the huddle early in his team's victory over Mac Irvin Fire on Thursday, Jones implored his teammates to stick together defensively.
"Keep playing D!," he told them. "They will settle. They will settle."
As in, they (the Mac Irvin Fire) would settle for poor shots if the Panthers stayed together on defense. He was right. The Fire went 3-of-21 from 3-point range in a Panthers victory.
In a victory later over the Texas Titans, the Panthers forced a Titans time out after a big 3-pointer from 6-foot-3 mid-major sniper Anders Broman. Jones set up that 3-pointer with yet another picture-perfect drive and kickout assist.
Jones congratulated Broman as they jogged off the court.
"I told you! I told you!," Jones shouted at Broman.
Broman slapped Jones' congratulatory hand.
"Broman is a phenomenal shooter," Jones said. "I told him to keep shooting because the next one could potentially be a dagger, and I drove and found him and he made it, and I said, 'I told you!' He kind of laughed. We're doing a pretty good job of communicating right now."
His teammates listen to Jones, despite the fact that he is a year younger than they are.
Vocal leadership is rare at the AAU level. It's almost unheard-of for a younger guy playing up to a higher age group being able to lead older players.
"I always played up so I got used to leading by example," Jones said. "I've got a great group of guys here and they trust me and I'm their leader and they know that and I know that and I'm comfortable with that role.
"Vocal communication is something that I needed to work on. When I'm being vocal and talking to them, they listen. They are a great group of guys. They could be hard-headed and be like, 'I don't have to listen to you,' but they do listen, and we play together."
Harris has been impressed.
"He is leading the guys in getting them their shots and there are times when he needs to take over, and he is doing that," Harris said. "I'd like to see him take some more mid-range jump shots, be more selfish to be a complete player. That sounds funny, with the way players are today, but that's what he has to do."
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo watched Jones play throughout July at almost every opportunity. MSU is targeting Jones as a Plan A-plus target for next year.
Jones has yet to arrive at a list of favorites, but Michigan State is expected to get strong consideration. He took an unofficial visit to Michigan State for a basketball game last winter.
"It was great," Jones said. "I liked the campus. I love Coach Izzo. The team played well, which always makes it better. So I had a good time there."
Jones said he is likely to take some unofficial visits in August.
"I don't have any plans to visit anywhere for the rest of the summer, as of now, but I'll probably try to," he said. "I don't know where yet, specifically, but I'll probably try to, because in the month of August AAU is done and there will be some free time so I will probably try to get one, maybe two unofficials."
Is Michigan State in line to get an unofficial visit in August?
"Unofficial back up there? I don't know yet," he said. "I don't have anything planned as of yet and I don't have any re-visits scheduled yet."
Jones is reluctant of listing any schools above others at this point.
"I'm wide open to everybody at this point," he said. "I don't think I'm too close to making a decision. I haven't started narrowing down my list yet, so you want to have fun with this, play basketball and just have fun with it and try not to let it stress you out."
What will he be looking for in a school?
"Style of play. Coaching. I like more uptempo, a place where they let you play."
Who will be assisting him in the decision-making process?
"My family, both of my parents and my older brother who already went through the recruiting process and has a lot of experience in this."
What does he try to bring to the court as a player?
"Being a complete point guard, being able to run the show.
"You always want to work on the little things - things like boxing out, talking, getting on the floor, staying in front of your man on defense. It's easy to get lazy, especially if you get tired."
The Book On Jones
It's pretty simple: He can and will go by you with either hand, crossing over quickly, sharply and with strength in either direction. He has the ball on a yo-yo string when crossing over in tight traffic, the way Bobby Hurley used to do.
In addition to excellent ball handling ability, he also creates room with a great penchant for stopping and starting and changing speeds.
From there, he can go all the way to the rack to score the glasser with either hand, pull-up and score, dump off to a teammate for a lay-up, or kickout to a teammate for an open jumpshot. He does each of those, over and over, through the course of a single game.
He has excellent vision, making crosscourt passes to open teammates for jumpers when you are certain that he isn't aware of them.
When he drives and dishes, he makes difficult plays look easy and almost effortless, such as the driving, no-look bounce pass to a teammate for a lay-up on Friday night against Wisconsin Playground Elite. He could have finished that pass with Skiles-like flair, but - to his credit - he usually keeps things toned down to only the necessary levels of distribution.
All of this stuff often makes defenders play off of him by a step or a half-step. That's all the room he needs to get off his jumper. It's a pretty quick release, with some elevation. When he gets it off, it's usually going in, based on his rate of efficiency at Peach Jam, where he made 10-of-15 from long range.
He can ring it up from deep, but he isn't a shoot-first point guard. If he had more of shoot-first mentality, this guy might have averaged 35 to 40 a game at Peach Jam rather than 25. But that's not his style.
He can shoot the medium-range shot off the dribble or the long-range shot off the dribble, kind of the way Marcus Taylor used to do it when he was in high school, but we would like to see Jones really pushed defensively on-ball to the point that he would have to attempt these shots at maximum speed. He can probably do it, but he didn't force it this week. And he saw the best defenders, from Mac Irvin's Kyle Davis to CIA Bounce's Tory Reid Knight.
Both tried to deny him the ball, and had some success at times in doing so, especially when Jones moved to shooting guard.
It would be interesting to see Jones get screens while away from the ball. He has good quickness, excellent skill and a good basketball I.Q. There are a lot of ways to utilize him.
Defensively, he's like most young guys, he needs some work. The Panthers played a lot of zone, so it was hard to get a good look at his man-to-man skills this week. His team played man-to-man on Friday night against Wisconsin Playground Elite and he did fine.
He has a fairly strong build for a high school junior. He plays with pads on his shins, thighs and rib area, so he expects to play through contact and doesn't shy away from it.
Down 26-21 to tournament favorites CIA Bounce, keyed a 13-4 run by scoring 10 and adding an assist.
He began the binge by driving and kicking out to Jake Wright for a 3-pointer.
Next, he finished a 2-on-1 break with a fake-and-take lay-up.
Then he drilled a 3-pointer off a stationary dribble to give the Panthers a 29-28 lead.
Then he went between the legs at the top of the key two or three times, mesmerizing his defender, then went by him for a driving high-glasser on the right side for a 31-30 lead.
Then he showed some restraint and discretion in leading a 1-on-3 transition opportunity, probing with a left-handed dribble drive, then bringing it back out to the backcourt. He saw he didn't have numbers, and didn't force anything. But then CIA briefly left him open as they tried to get set on defense. Too late. Jones needed only a split-second of time and space to drill a 3-pointer and give the Panthers a 34-30 lead.
Jones had 21 points in the first half on his way to 30 for the game. CIA's overall length and athleticism in playing pressure man-to-man defense eventually limited Jones' ability to penetrate and create for his less-talented teammates. But Jones' impressiveness in hitting the accelerator in the first half provided an indication of what he can do when in take-over mode.
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