<
>

Tyus Jones' draft dream is realized

Just two months removed from being named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, Duke standout Tyus Jones was selected in the first round of the NBA draft. Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS -- The screams shook the lower level of a local sports bar Thursday night after Adam Silver announced that the Cleveland Cavaliers had made Tyus Jones the 24th pick of the 2015 NBA draft.

By then, Rob Pelinka, Jones' agent, had handed him a cellphone so Flip Saunders, president of basketball operations and coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, could tell the Apple Valley, Minnesota, native that the franchise had arranged a trade with the Cavs.

Jones' NBA dreams would begin in his hometown.

"We had to do a lot of stuff to try to get the pick," Saunders said. "What he is, he's a leader. He's a winner. And he fits into what we're trying to do with young players, high-character [players] that are winners. We targeted him the whole time. From 14 up, we were working to try to get him."

Jones, named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four in April following Duke's national championship run, made the decision to host an event here, rather than enjoy the festivities at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, so that dozens of family members and friends who attended his private party at Bar 508 in downtown Minneapolis could experience this moment.

They all chanted his name and raised their glasses after Pelinka announced that the Cavaliers and Timberwolves had made the deal to keep Jones home.

"Ty-us! Ty-us! Ty-us! Ty-us! Ty-us!"

Gray-haired men slapped one another. Women dressed for the runway hugged and submitted to cries that smeared their makeup. Youngsters danced. Then, Jones stood. Eyes red. He wrapped his mother, Deb Jones. His father, Rob Jones, rubbed his head.

"I knew this would be a special night," said Jones, who grabbed a microphone. "It's a blessing to even say I've been drafted to the NBA. On top of that, it's been written the best that I could've even imagined it with I'm going to be a Minnesota Timberwolf. Family and friends, you all have made me who I am."

He'd known all along that Pelinka had pressed the Timberwolves to make a move so that the former McDonald's All American could play for his hometown squad. But the early maneuvering made him wonder.

Pelinka hustled in and out of the room to take calls. And each time another point guard was picked (Emmanuel Mudiay, Jerian Grant, Delon Wright and Terry Rozier were all selected before Jones) or a team that seemed like a good fit (Dallas, Chicago, Houston) chose someone else, he pointed to a laminated chart as he discussed possible scenarios with Jones and his family.

It all magnified the uncertainty.

Jones' brother and trainer, Jadee Jones, began the evening with a stammered prayer. "Father God, we ... um .... OK," he said as his nerves, briefly, stole his words.

Later, Jones' mother looked at his aunt, Darcy Cascaes, and shook her head. His uncle, Gregg Cascaes, couldn't sit still.

The former Duke star sipped from the same glass of ice water for the first few picks. He rarely moved or reacted. He drank much more as the first round progressed.

Every time Silver approached the stage, folks with smartphones positioned themselves to capture Jones' reaction, assuming he'd be the next pick. Arms arched, cameras ready ... and Silver would call someone else's name. This sequence repeated throughout the night.

Midway through the first round, Jones looked up, smiled and said, "Crazy," as all the deals and picks unfolded without him.

And then, it was over. Or just beginning.

Jones to the Timberwolves, announced to the stunned home crowd by Pelinka, while the DJ played Diddy's "Coming Home," which features singer Skylar Grey's memorable chorus: I'm coming home, I'm coming home, tell the world I'm coming home ....

"As soon as I signed Tyus, Flip, he called me and said let's work together," Pelinka said. "They were just really relentless."

This is a young man who led Apple Valley High School to a 2013 state championship in the Target Center, home of the Timberwolves. He was a gold medalist with USA Basketball's junior Olympic squads as a prep. He was the leader of a Duke team that won a national championship. Now, he'll play for the local NBA franchise.

"To go to the Timberwolves, dreams keep coming true," Deb Jones said. "It's one after another and another. We're just so blessed."

Long before that night, however, the visionaries in the room could see this, one day, unfolding.

Rene Pulley, a local basketball guru who runs the Howard Pulley AAU program that Jones once led, drove through a blizzard to see Jones play when he was an eighth-grader competing on his high school's varsity squad. Jones had called and asked him to attend.

After a few minutes, Pulley walked out of the gym to get a hot dog. His parents chased him and asked for his opinion.

"They said, 'Oh, we thought you were leaving,'" Pulley recalled. "I said, 'Why? He's the best player in there.'"

Jones' supporters spilled champagne and stories about the times he dominated games in difficult moments, the high school crowds that always threatened fire codes and the tenacity that turned him into one of the draft's best stories.

"He came home and he was in the gym at 11:30 the other night," Rob Jones said. "He didn't have to be. He didn't have to be in the gym. At Apple Valley. He's in the gym working out with his brother. People don't see that part. You just don't get here. Maybe if you're 6-11, 7-feet you get here. But a point guard, they have to work. And Tyus has put in the work. He's earned this. He's earned this moment."

Now, they all mingled with Saunders and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor. Both stopped by the bar after Silver announced the trade.

"Tickets sales are going to be crazy with this guy," Pelinka told Saunders.

"Yeah," Saunders replied. "It's gonna be good."

Once his new boss left, Jones stood in the corner of the pulsating pub and tried to process the last few life-changing hours.

"I don't even know," he said, "what to say."

Makes sense.

For this basketball fairy tale, words never seem sufficient.