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In Tyus Jones Duke trusts

MADISON, Wis. -- On Wednesday evening, Tyus Jones' clan drove four hours from Minnesota and gathered at State Street Brats. They consumed their pregame meal just a few blocks from the Kohl Center, where the freshman would guide No. 4 Duke to an 80-70 victory over No. 2 Wisconsin in Wednesday's ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup hours later.

As they scarfed down burgers and bratwurst, they reminisced about the prodigy -- Jones started for Apple Valley (Minnesota) High School as an eighth-grader -- who'd become a standout for one of America's best teams and an NBA prospect.

His brother Jadee recalled the time Tyus asked him about the future.

"You think I could play for Michigan State one day?" a young Tyus once asked Jadee.

It didn't take long for Tyus Jones to realize he could play for Michigan State or Kentucky or Kansas or Duke or anyone.

After he landed in Durham, North Carolina, it didn't take much time for coach Mike Krzyzewski to acknowledge that the freshman deserved a starting spot with the Blue Devils.

And we only needed 40 minutes Wednesday to see that Jones (22 points, six rebounds, four assists in 37 minutes) could lead Duke to Indianapolis and a national championship.

He was the star in the most impressive road win any team has earned this season. He was the reason Duke entered halftime with a three-point lead (after shooting 60 percent from the field) even though Jahlil Okafor was only 2-for-3 at the break and missed a chunk of time due to foul trouble.

In the final three minutes of the first half, Jones grabbed a rebound, set up Quinn Cook for a 3-pointer and hit a pair of shots of his own from beyond the arc. In the second half, his late free throws, layup and assists helped Duke separate from Wisconsin.

It's not rare to see a freshman earn significant playing time in the one-and-done era. It's not foreign to see a first-year player start, even if that means running the show for a team such as Duke, where starting point guards are recognized by a single name -- Bobby, J-Will, Capel, Kyrie.

But trust usually comes later. You have to prove something first. Show the world that you can handle this level. This stage. This competition. This moment.

Jones' teammates began to trust Jones during the offseason.

Coach K called on Rasheed Sulaimon to give the youngster "hell" in pickup games. So Sulaimon did that. And as Jones took it and fought back, Sulaimon began to trust Jones, too.

"I made him better and he made me better," Sulaimon said after the game.

Cook stepped aside as Jones snatched his starting point-guard spot. He chose to learn rather than get bitter. In the locker room after Wednesday's victory, Cook admitted that he turns to Jones because he's so calm in tense situations.

"I do, I do [turn to him]," he said.

Even the veteran trusts the freshman.

Okafor is Jones' best friend and confidant. They're roommates. They're the best point guard-center duo in the country, too.

"I trust Tyus with my life," he said.

Talent is easy to find. Trust? Not so much, especially when it involves a freshman point guard running a team with national-title hopes.

But this has become Jones' team.

The victory over Wisconsin certainly turned heads. Jones was discussed as a possible NBA prospect prior to the game, but that performance elevated his stock.

Now the comparisons will come. Is he Michael Conley Jr.? Is he Tyler Ennis? Is he going to stay?

All of that can wait. There's too much season left to make grand conclusions that might be erased and rewritten in the coming weeks.

It's obvious, however, that this stellar assembly believes in Jones the way UConn believed in Shabazz Napier and Louisville believed in Peyton Siva and Michigan believed in Trey Burke.

That's why it all worked. That's why the Blue Devils stayed together in a tough environment Wednesday night.

"They're better than us," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said, "right now."

Ryan wouldn't have misspoken if he'd said that Duke is better than everybody right now, because with Jones in charge, the Blue Devils might be.

Jones, who once wondered if he had the skill to compete for a Division I program, can run with any team in the country -- and he can probably help an NBA team, too.

That's common for McDonald's All Americans, though.

The level of trust that surrounds the freshman this early in the season, however, is not.