Tyus Jones continues to boost Minnesota basketball
The NBA guard has helped make the summer pro-am league a must-see for local players and fans
MINNEAPOLIS — A long line formed outside of Minnehaha Academy early Thursday evening, prior to the doors opening for the highly anticipated Twin Cities pro-am final.
By 6 p.m., still 30 minutes prior to tipoff, nearby parking was nearly impossible to find. Cars scoured the streets for spots before people made the trek to the Minneapolis school.
At 6:15 p.m., available bleacher seats were non-existent. Five minutes later, front-row spots along the above-court rails were sparse. Redhawks athletics director Josh Thurow then pulled up the divider that separated the main court from a practice floor to open up more standing-room options.
By the time the game tipped, an estimated 1,500 people had flooded into the gym to witness the conclusion of the scintillating summer basketball series featuring some of the best talent the area’s flourishing basketball scene has to offer.
An event that drew maybe 200-250 people on a nightly basis pre-pandemic featured no fewer than 500 spectators on any given evening this summer.
With a live DJ, an in-game emcee and premier talent that included Tyus and Tre Jones, David Roddy, Daniel Oturu, Theo John, Ade Murkey and Rashad Vaughn. With guest appearances from Minnesota Timberwolves players such as Jaden McDaniels, Nathan Knight, Wendell Moore and Josh Minott, the pro-am was a must-see for local hoops fanatics.
Which is why various pro athletes from other sports — including Vikings players, Twins players and Olympic gold medalist Gable Steveson — all stopped by this summer to watch some hoops.
“It’s turned into something great, something bigger than I think even what (pro-am CEO Jamar Diggs) and everyone anticipated. But man, it’s so much fun to see,” Tyus Jones said. “Minnesota, we’re always slept on as a basketball state, but the fans enjoy basketball, enjoy getting out to see basketball. So, when it’s run the right way, like it has been, the talent is there, people are going to come out and watch. It’s going to be cool to see how it continues to grow.”
So much credit in starting and growing the event belongs with the men who started it all, Diggs and Joel Williams. They have played a key role in elevating the atmosphere and growing the audience.
But, as is the case with much of what’s been built over the last decade-plus in this budding basketball state, credit, too, goes to the man who hoisted the trophy Thursday — Tyus Jones.
The Apple Valley product and current Memphis Grizzlies point guard has been a constant at the pro-am. He owns, manages and coaches Team Tyus, which became the first team in the pro-am’s history to go undefeated this season. His consistent involvement has given the pro-am credibility.
While players understandably pop in and out throughout the summer, it’s a good bet if Team Tyus is on the schedule, Jones will be on the floor. He played in a pro-am game July 9, flew to Las Vegas to watch a Grizzlies’ Summer League game on the 10th, then was back at Minnehaha Academy to play again on the 12th.
He gets something out of the experience, too. Jones noted the level of competition continues to climb, so hoopers get the “good runs” they desire in the offseason without having to set them up themselves. He has fun putting together his roster. The pro-am offers a chance to play with his brothers.
The Jones family has always lived in the gym. It’s where they prefer to be. Dating back to when the guard was in eighth-grade, he has drawn a crowd everywhere he’s been. This is no different.
“I think when I was younger it was … ‘we hear about this eighth-grader, he’s getting kind of national hype.’ And that stayed throughout high school. Gyms have always been packed wherever I play, and that’s cool,” Jones said. “But for me, more importantly, it’s been about the kids, like it always has been.”
That’s evident at the pro-am, where Jones — who also sponsors his own Minnesota-based AAU teams — is high-fiving children during games and taking as many photos as are requested after them. The 26-year-old acknowledges anyone who looks his way, and that impact is felt.
“It’s cool that kids can come out and see, they get a little interaction with you,” Jones said. “They might slap your hand, you might take a picture with them, you might have a two-second convo with them, but that matters.”
Kids now in high school will come up to Jones and show him photos they took with him years ago.
“To know it made a kid’s day, or it’s a memory for them, that’s really why I do it,” Jones said. “They continue to show up and support and come watch, so I’m going to continue to try to be out there and give them a show.”
That’s what he’s continued to do on a nightly basis one summer after the next, with a competitive, yet level-headed mindset that’s set an example for others to follow. Jones continues to serve as an ideal ambassador, not just for the pro-am, but Minnesota basketball as a whole.
He has helped build it, and fans have come. Everyone has benefited.
“(It’s) such a great experience for all the ones playing, for all the kids,” Jones said. “They’ll remember these types of games and these environments when they’re older.”
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