Back spasms limit Jones, not his teammates
DEC 18, 2012 9:10p ET
The Apple Valley High School gym was filled to the rafters Tuesday night. Days before the game, a sellout was expected. Nearly everyone wanted to see what the boy wonder, Apple Valley junior point guard Tyus Jones, could do against another one of the state's best teams.
Yet while we all came to see Tyus Jones, the nation's top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2014, we got to see him for all of six minutes. During that time he turned the ball over twice and failed to score a point before back spasms forced him to leave the game.
Jones didn't return to the game, leaving the gym with his Eagles team trailing Hopkins, 15-7. Without its team leader and best player, Apple Valley struggled to keep pace with the Royals in the first half. The Jones-less Eagles trailed, 42-33, at halftime, prompting chants such as "Where is Tyus?" and "You need Tyus!" from the Hopkins students that made the trip to Apple Valley.
But there was a sense that even the Hopkins fans were disappointed Jones wasn't on the court. Since he first made the varsity team as an eighth grader, Jones has been turning heads and has put wrestling powerhouse Apple Valley on the basketball map. As his profile continued to grow, he began to pack gyms across the state of Minnesota as fans came to watch him play.
Such was the case Tuesday, as many fans with high school apparel other than from Apple Valley or Hopkins filled the tan, plastic gymnasium bleachers. Before the junior varsity game was finished, the gym was nearly full for the 7 p.m. varsity tipoff. No one wanted to miss this marquee matchup between the third-ranked Eagles and No. 6 Royals.
"We were expecting a big crowd," said senior co-captain Dustin Fronk. "But with Tyus, we've been used to the big crowds."
When Jones left the game, fans looked to the bench to see what the issue was. With Jones nowhere to be found, speculation rose about his whereabouts or what his injury might be.
Then, when the teams came out of the locker rooms after halftime, Jones took the court again — only this time in street clothes and trendy black-rimmed glasses. It was clear the star guard they all came to see wouldn't be wowing this crowd.
As disappointing as that may have been for those who came to Apple Valley to see what the hype was about, the fans were still treated to an entertaining basketball game, even without Jones. The Eagles climbed back from a 16-point deficit to tie the game at 54-54 on a layup by Robert Tobroxen. From there, Fronk took over and picked up the slack with Jones on the bench. Fronk scored a game-high 27 points to lift Apple Valley to a 73-64 win.
The victory for the Eagles proved that, even without Jones, they're a talented team. And though Jones couldn't be on the floor, he offered encouragement to teammates, serving as another coach on the bench. The leadership role is one Jones is continuing to embrace.
"Even though I'm not playing, the guys still respect me enough to listen to what I've got to say," Jones said. "If I see something on the court, I'm definitely going to let them know. If I'm holding that back, that's only hurting us. … I'm still trying to coach and lead from the bench."
After the game, Jones proved that he's still the one everybody came to see, even if he didn't score a single point. Young kids came up to him after the game to ask for his autograph, and he obliged by singing his name in silver ink on magazines with his likeness on the cover. Other fans made a point to shake his hand or offer him words of encouragement.
University of Minnesota coach Tubby Smith was in attendance Tuesday as well, staying until the end even though Jones was on the bench. The Gophers are one of eight teams on Jones' final list of schools, and Smith has followed Jones' career from his first practice as an eighth grader.
The crowd was certainly festive, with students of both schools dressed in various costumes. The costumed students ranged from SpongeBob SquarePants to Waldo to a red Teletubby.
"It's a big game. You could see it by the crowd that was here," Jones said.
With the Eagles' win securely in hand, Apple Valley's frenzied student section returned an earlier chant right back to the Hopkins faithful: "You need Tyus!"
On Tuesday, the Eagles didn't.
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