Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Jones Carrying On Without Okafor, But Not for Long
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor would’ve been the main attraction here at the Nike Global Challenge.
Fans and coaches alike could’ve seen the potential package deal in action before they potentially become a college package.
But Okafor didn’t make it, leaving Jones to lead the USA Midwest team without him.
“I think it would’ve been fun. It would’ve been fun and I think everyone would’ve liked to see it,” the 6-foot-2 Jones said after going for 6 points and 5 assists as USA Midwest crushed Brazil, 99-55, at Trinity Washington University.
“I was talking with [Okafor] a little bit but he’s been busy this summer, especially when he was over playing with the U19 team, so he just decided to rest, so you can’t really be mad at him for it.”
Justise Winslow, who is also considering joining Jones and Okafor in college, is also resting up after Peach Jam and winning a U19 gold medal alongside Okafor.
“We built a great bond with [Winslow] when we were in Lithuania,” Jones said. “Me and Jahlil being a point guard and a big, bringing a wing with us, we thought why not Justise? So that’s where he kind of fit in.”
Still, a slew of big-time coaches were courtside to see Jones and teammate Rashad Vaughn (14 points).
Minnesota’s Richard Pitino, Kentucky’s John Calipari, Kansas’ Bill Self, Baylor’s Scott Drew, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Duke Steve Wojciechowski and Ohio State’s Jeff Boals sat courtside.
Jones and Okafor have been planning on playing together since they teamed together two years ago at the FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Mexico.
“It really started out at USA,” Jones said. “We just had a good bond on the court and we had a great bond off the court as well. We really became great friends and that’s kind of where it hit that we wanted to go to the next level and do the same thing and have success at the next level. Once we became great friends, it kind of made it easy to do that.”
Of playing with the 6-10 Okafor, Jones said: “He just knows the game. He’s a big man that knows the game. He knows spacing, he knows how to use his feet and has great hands. So he just makes my job easier.”
Duke remains the favorite to land the dynamic duo, and Jones speaks glowingly of coach Mike Krzyzewksi and the program. He said he speaks with assistant Jeff Capel “probably a few times a week.”
“Coach K is arguably one of the greatest coaches of all time,” Jones said. “You just look at their guard pedigree, the guards that have gone through there and what they’ve been able to accomplish with them. And that’s really what I look for. It’s a great school education-wise. So those are the main things we look at.”
Still, both Jones and Okafor are also considering Kentucky, Kansas, Baylor, Michigan State and Ohio State. They will take an official visit to Baylor in late August, but have no other visits set.
Minnesota is on Jones’ list but not on Okafor’s, and Pitino may in fact stand a better chance of landing Vaughn and/or fellow Minnesotan Reid Travis (17 points, 7 boards) than he does of getting Jones.
Asked what it would mean if some combination of the three Minnesota studs stayed home, Jones said: “I think it would mean a lot. Minnesota has a great fanbase and they”re all pushing for us to stay and be Gophers so I think it would mean a lot to them.”
But because Minnesota is not on Okafor’s list, it doesn’t seem probable that Jones will stay home.
“That just means I’m still looking to build a relationship with Coach Pitino,” Jones said. “[Okafor] has a couple schools on his list that I’m not considering so he’s still talking with their coaching staffs and stuff like that.”
Jones and Okafor weren’t able to team up this week, but don’t bet against it happening in college.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.