HAMPTON, Va. -- Clearly, Tyus Jones is new to this whole “marked man” thing.
It’s not that he doesn’t agree, it’s more that he doesn’t want to come across as arrogant. But when pressed, Jones had to be honest when asked if he can tell that players on the AAU circuit this year seem to see him as an opportunity to make a name for themselves.
“I’d have to say, yes,” said Jones, who runs with the Howard Pulley Panthers (Minn.). “Guys go at me more and defenses are keying in on me more. It’s like they know who I am before the game and are ready for me. I just have to be ready at all times.”
Such is the life of the top point guard in the ESPN 25.
From ferocious face-guarding to box-and-one defenses to facing determined, energetic guards, Jones has noticed that his bull's-eye has grown from big to immeasurable.
“I forget sometimes that he’s 15 years old,” Panthers coach Antwan Harris said. “Just the way he handles kids going at him. They all know where he’s ranked and they want what he’s got. They want to be in his position. It’s become much more physical this year, but he’s up for the challenge.”
Rasheed Sulaimon said he’d better be.
Sulaimon, a senior shooting guard at Strake Jesuit (Houston), has faced the same intense attention on the court ever since he committed to Duke in February last year.
“Everyone is gonna keep coming at Tyus because he’s on top,” said Sulaimon, who is ranked No. 12 in the ESPNU 100. “The best way to deal with that is to work harder and keep getting better. It will only get more intense from here. It’s tough.”
Good thing Jones, a sophomore, has had a little practice.
It’s the same thing he went through this season at Apple Valley (Minn.), where he averaged 28 points and eight assists per game and led the Eagles to a runner-up finish in the Class 4A Section 3 tournament.
“I don’t get rattled,” he said. “I just always stay calm. It’s crazy because people expect me to play perfect and never miss a shot and always make the right play and just be perfect. I know that’s crazy so it helps me to stay cool and play my game. I just go out there and try to get it done.”
So far, so good.
The Panthers (5-4) are third in scoring in the EYBL, putting up 69.9 points a game. Jones ranks third in scoring, dropping 20.8 points per game, and leads the league in assists with 6.6 per game.
“Tyus handles all of the attention very well,” said ESPNU national recruiting director Paul Biancardi. “He doesn’t force the issue. He makes the play that the possession calls for versus trying to get his. He’s very efficient and he’s under control, yet he plays the game at a fast pace. That’s what makes him elite.”
That and the fact that heavyweights like Kentucky’s John Calipari, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, Minnesota’s Tubby Smith and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, among others, sat courtside for most of his games last weekend.
“The thing I love about Tyus is that he’s never satisfied,” Harris said. “He’s driven to be the best point guard in the country.”
Jones echoed those sentiments immediately, and when reminded that he’s already considered the top point guard in 2014, he was quick to point out that he’s “not just playing against players in my class.”
“I’m playing 17U, so I want to be the best of the best,” Jones said. “I think it’s important to have goals and that’s one of mine. I want to be the best point guard, period.”