Tyus Jones Enjoying USA U17 Journey
Gran Canaria, Canary Islands • June 23, 2012
For the past 48 hours or so, Tyus Jones (Apple Valley H.S./Apple Vally Minn.) and the members of the 2012 USA Basketball Men's U17 World Championship have been making their way from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, which is their first stop en route to the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship in Lithuania.
Traveling as a team in matching, navy-blue USA sweats, the team spent about 24 hours in transit together, before having to separate due to travel delays. Five members and four team staff made it to the hotel in the Canary Islands on Friday night, while the remainder of the team and staff, including Jones, stayed in Madrid overnight as the next available seats were on a Saturday morning flight. However, close to 48 hours after beginning their trip, Jones and all of his teammates got onto the court where they’ll play a pair of exhibition games on Sunday and Monday nights.
"The team handled the situation very well,” said Jones as he reflected on his two-day journey. “We were faced with a little adversity and a little change, but we handled it extremely well, we did not complain one bit. We just made a fun time out of it, so it was good.”
Upon arriving, everyone got into their rooms, changed for practice, got some lunch and headed to the gym.
“It was definitely good to get back with the whole team, get back on the court and get a nice workout in,” he said.
The team's journey began back on June 15 with the start of a training camp that featured 29 players. After 14 finalists were selected on June 17, the official 12-member roster was named on June 19, just two days before the squad departed for the Canary Islands.
"It's a great honor to make the official roster, and it's just a great feeling to be able to represent your country and know that you are one of few that get to do that," Jones said of his selection. "It's just a great feeling, and I'm really blessed."
With two-a-day practices throughout training camp, the players didn't have much free time while staying at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. They did, however, get a chance to see a movie, go out to dinner and even played laser tag.
"We are used to going to the gym and then being able to do other things, but with USA Basketball, it's different," Tyus said of training camp." You can't really do a whole lot. We did get out, though. We had a great time playing laser tag and we went to a movie. Our free time was limited, but we enjoyed it when we got it."
The busy schedule does have its benefit on the court when it comes to team chemistry.
"We definitely knew each other coming into camp, and just practicing and spending time together in the dorm, that helped us come together and the travel day brought us together even more," Jones said. "I think we have pretty good chemistry right now, and it will just increase."
It won't be long before that chemistry is tested. After practicing again tonight, the USA will play exhibition games on June 24 against Latvia and 25 against either Australia or Spain. The team then travels to Kaunas, Lithuania, for the FIBA U17 World Championship, which will be played June 29 through July 8.
"With a good amount of players from last year's U16 team, we are somewhat used to international rules," Jones said of his team. "But yeah, other countries play with those rules year round, so we are not at the same level they are at in some ways. I do think we will be more athletic than any other team we play. We'll be able to get out and run. I also think we will be bigger. We have great bigs inside, and that will be to our advantage, and we will use it."
Seven U.S. team members, as well as the coaching staff of Don Showalter (Iowa City H.S., Iowa), Rich Gray(St. Louis Eagles AAU, Mo.) and Mike Jones(DeMatha Catholic H.S., Md.), helped the USA qualify for the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship with a 5-0 record and gold medal at the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Cancun, Mexico .Scoring an average of 108.4 points per game in 2011, the USA won its five contests by an impressive margin of 42.0 points per contest.
"With the Americas tournament last summer, we had some things that we struggled with, but overall, I think we dominated the tournament," Jones said of the 2011 USA U16 National Team. "There definitely will be better teams in Lithuania. It's not going to be the same tournament as last summer. We got to come out focused and to compete.
"Every game we go out there, we expect it to be a loud crowd and not always to have fans," Jones continued. "We got to get ready for that."
If 2011 is any example of how Jones will perform this summer, his teammates are in for a treat. At the zone qualifer last summer, Jones dished out a tournament leading 5.6 assists per game.
"I'm just doing my job out there," Jones said of his assists average in 2011. "I'm a floor general, and if my teammates are open, I'm going to get them the ball. I'm not going for stats or anything. I'm just trying to put our team in a position to get wins.
"Playing with a great group of guys like we have, the talent level is through the roof. With guys to your right and to your left that you can pass to and you know they are going to make a play, it makes my job a whole lot easier."
With two years of high school remaining, Jones already has played three varsity seasons at Apple Valley High School after suiting up in the eighth grade.
"It was definitely a learning experience," Jones said of playing against boys age 17 and 18 when he was 13 years old. "I had a pretty good year that year actually. My skill level was there, but I wasn't the strongest guard. My maturity level was extremely high for my age, so that's what made me be able to compete at that level and be successful as well."
There is no doubt Jones' support system is his family, including two brothers, one older and one younger.
"They are just extremely proud of me," Jones said of his family. "They believed in me because I've been working hard. This has been one of my goals, so they are just extremely proud and they are supporting me and cheering me on."
His older brother, Jadee Jones, played basketball for Furman University and Mankato State University, and he is using his experience to help Tyus along his journey.
"I'm very close to my younger brother who is going into the seventh grade and my older brother who is 26," Jones said. "My older brother is my trainer, and he works me out. He's been through this recruiting process, so we've gotten extremely close over the past three years. All three of us are always together, going to the gym and hanging out. We just have a really close bond, which is great.
"He know the ins and outs, and it's just real nice to have someone to go to that you can ask anything.," Jones said of Jadee. "He's willing to talk about anything. And both my parents, my whole family, I have a really great support system, so it makes my job a lot easier."
And while he will miss his family over the next few weeks as he travels from the Canary Islands to Lithuania, Jones said there is no danger of him getting distracted.
“I'm looking foward to having a good time on this trip, but at the same time, I'm focused. We have one goal in mind -- to win a gold medal -- and I'm trying to accomplish that.”