The second quarter is winding down inside the Dallas Center-Grimes gymnasium, but half the crowd is going crazy. In six seconds, the fans in green and pink will get even louder as the skill and brilliance of Tyreke Locure is put on display again.
Des Moines North’s star point guard explodes toward the paint from the right wing. He demands the attention of three defenders. They all close, but Locure doesn’t care; his eyes are on Jal Bijiek, North’s 6-foot-7 big man, standing alone in the paint.
As Locure drives, he dribbles once, twice and then spots a hole between two of the three defenders. He dumps the ball off to Bijiek, who juggles the ball into his grasp and rises to give the Polar Bears two more points in an 88-68 Class 4A substate final win over Ankeny.
“Smartest player I’ve ever seen,” Bijiek said a couple of days later. “His knowledge of the game is crazy. He’s so smart in knowing time and possession — and knowing when the defender is going to come.
“I tell people all the time — talent wise, he’s the most talented player to ever come through Iowa. It’s just an honor to be able to play with him.”
A few days after beating Ankeny on Feb. 28, Locure leads the Polar Bears through drills in the North High School gym. Off to the side, coach Chad Ryan explains how talented his sophomore point guard is.
“He’s just ultra-competitive,” Ryan says, “and he’s not good by accident. He’s worked to be good. He’s pretty short, so to put up the numbers he does is a testament to his work ethic. He has goals to play college basketball, and he’s very focused on that.
“Just watching Tyreke grow up — heck, he would’ve gotten playing time for us in sixth grade.”
Thousands will get to see that talent up close this week. That victory over Ankeny pushed North into the state tournament, the school’s first appearance since 1991. The Polar Bears are carrying a 12-game winning streak into Wednesday night’s quarterfinal against defending champion West Des Moines Valley.
Locure is 5-foot-10 with shoes on, but he’s played a huge part in North’s run to state. He’s averaging 25.9 points per game this season, second-best in 4A, and he’s recorded 164 assists, along with 68 steals — numbers that rank second and fifth in the class, respectively. He’s guided North to 36 wins as a two-year starter and is Prep Hoops Iowa’s No. 2 prospect in the 2019 recruiting class.
“He’s definitely a cut above the rest,” Prep Hoops Iowa recruiting analyst T.J. Rushing said. “The word ‘talented’ is used to describe a lot of players, but with Locure, you really have to say he’s special. Some of the things he’s able to do are just off-the-charts good.
“We have him at No. 2 only because one of the best kids in the nation — Patrick McCaffery (of Iowa City West) — is ahead of him. Otherwise, he’d be a shoo-in for the top prospect in Iowa for 2019.”
Locure’s rise has come thanks to a relentless work ethic and a will power that stems from his father, who brought his family here from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The combination creates plenty of highlights like those six seconds against Ankeny.
He finished that night with 20 points, 15 assists and two steals — a stat line that displays Locure’s game. He’s the engine that makes North’s offense go — a fierce competitor who will get a chance to play on the state’s biggest stage.
“He can encompass his whole game together and still get everybody else involved,” Bijiek said. “That’s otherworldly. I’ve never seen a guy in high school basketball play at that level. That’s the reason we’ve won so many games, and his mentality has trickled down to all of us.”
Before practice, Locure emerged from the locker room at North and began talking about the helicopter. He was 4 years old when he first rode in one. He remembers the loud noise the blades made as they spun and carried him and his family to safety.
“I hadn’t flown before, so that was my first time,” Locure said. “I hadn’t ever been off the ground before, really, so that was kind of crazy to me. But we made it to safety, and that’s really all that matters.”
Because he was so young, Locure is fuzzy on the details of his family’s escape from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. His father, Terrance Bush Sr., took the whole family — himself, Locure and his two older brothers — to a hotel in downtown New Orleans, hoping the storm would pass.
Locure slept through it. Bush did not.
“You see everything flying in the air and stuff shaking — and then in came the water,” Bush said. “I freaked out. From the hotel, a guy got a hot tub loose, and that’s how we paddled to the interstate. We covered the boys up because there were dead bodies floating in the water.
“We stayed in the hotel for six days and then on the interstate for four days, right on the (Crescent City Connection) bridge. We slept on the concrete on the interstate. Tyreke slept on my chest, and the other two were under my arms.”
In the following weeks, the coverage of Katrina was broadcast across the country. That’s how Bush’s extended family found out they were alive — he said he dropped his phone in the water during their migration to the bridge. Before long, the helicopter came to their rescue.
Locure doesn’t recall much, but his few memories are stark: He remembers sitting on his father’s shoulder and looking out at the dead; he remembers sleeping on the bridge and seeing trash and uprooted trees everywhere; he remembers the helicopter ride.
“That’s something that stays with you forever,” Locure said.
The helicopter took them to the New Orleans airport. From there, they flew to San Antonio, where they stayed in a shelter. Three months later, they were on another plane to Des Moines, where Bush had extended family and knew the opportunity for a new life awaited his three boys.
“It wasn’t about me no more. It was about my kids,” said Bush, who works as a cook at The Old Spaghetti Works in Des Moines. “I don’t like to say that everything happens for a reason, but this happened for me and my boys for a reason. My family is still back in New Orleans, and we don’t get to see them very often because we can’t afford it.
“Back in New Orleans, we played football. But when we came here, my boys couldn’t handle the cold, so they switched to basketball.”
Locure first picked up a basketball shortly after moving to Des Moines. Bush said he would go outside at 6 a.m. and dribble in the driveway. In the third grade, Locure joined Kingdom Hoops, a local grassroots program, where stories of his temper emerged before his skill on the court.
“It was bad,” Locure said, and laughed. “I cried. I complained. Like, I shouldn’t have been on the floor. I would walk back to the bench or the huddle and just scream at everybody — just kid stuff; stuff that you shouldn’t be doing on the basketball court.”
With time, Locure turned his raw ability into basketball talent. He would watch YouTube videos of NBA-bound college players and try to mimic the way they dribbled, passed and shot — all while bypassing some of the basics.
“We went to a tournament in Milwaukee early on — after he first arrived,” said Chris Deason, the boys’ coach at Ballard and Locure’s first coach at Kingdom Hoops, “and he really struggled. He wanted to do all these things, but he just didn’t have the skill set to do it yet.
“I think that really motivated him, because every time I went down to that facility, he was in there, just hanging out and jumping into practices and games with older teams. He just got better.”
Basketball soon enveloped Locure’s life. When he wasn’t in season, he was in the gym, putting up 1,000 shots on a shooting machine each day. When he wasn’t at the gym, he was at home, playing NBA 2K or watching more videos of the basketball greats.
Deason coached Locure for three years at Kingdom Hoops and knew quickly that he would dominate. When Locure was in fourth grade, Deason brought him and his son, Isaiah, to Ballard during the summers, where Locure would jump in and play against high schoolers.
“He just wanted to play and compete,” Deason said. “He’s always been like that. He’s not going to back down from anybody. I’ve known coach Ryan for a while, and he has done a great job coaching Tyreke and using that fieriness to their advantage.
“He doesn’t try to put a lid on him and fit him into a box. He lets Tyreke be himself, and with that, he’s molded him and (they’re) using those things to their advantage, and you’re seeing that on the floor. He is dynamic.”
Rushing’s first encounter came with a similar hint of awe. Every summer, Norwalk High School hosts a high school basketball camp. Locure attended one year, as an eighth grader. Rushing was also in attendance.
“I had heard some buzz about him beforehand,” Rushing said, “so I went to watch him, and he was only 5-7, 5-8 at the time. I remember thinking he was tiny, but then he dominated. It was unreal.”
The buzz has only grown. As a freshman, Locure started at North and led 4A with 176 assists and 68 steals. He orchestrated an offense that scored 70.5 points per game. His numbers were just as good this season. As they grew, so did his recruiting profile.
“He really differentiates himself, defensively,” said Rushing, an occasional contributor to the Register’s sports coverage. “He’s not like an up-in-your-shorts defender or overly aggressive. He just has the uncanny ability to read passing lanes, pick them off and take it for two. He does things I’ve never seen anybody do on defense — at any level.
“I know he went to Nebraska’s Elite Camp — and to be invited to a Big Ten Elite Camp, you have to be a high-level player. I remember, when he was there, we had some Prep Hoops guy there, and my phone was blowing up. Everybody thought he was crazy good.”
Shortly after his freshman season, Locure began receiving looks from Division I programs. He worked out for Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery last September and attended Iowa State’s Hilton Madness a month later. His father said he’ll compete with Mokan, the Kansas City-based, Nike-sponsored program that’s produced 58 Division I athletes, this spring and summer.
The one thing slowing his recruiting process from going national, Rushing said, is his height.
“And he more than makes up for that with awareness, high IQ and an explosive first step,” Rushing added. “At this point, everybody knows who he is. Now they’ll want to see what a 5-foot-10 kid is able to do.”
This week’s state tournament is a prime opportunity.
Locure has shown the ability to perform in big games. Against teams ranked in the final 4A Associated Press poll, he’s averaged 26.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.4 steals — including a 41-point, four-rebound, six-assist showing in an 85-78 win over Valley on Jan. 17.
“Tyreke was phenomenal in that game,” Valley coach B.J. Windhorst said, “and when he’s playing well, everybody else plays well. We just have to make what they’re doing as tough as possible. And if they’re still able to put up 85 points on us, you just have to tip your cap.”
That night, Locure used the same moves he watched in those YouTube clips. Those skills have paved the way for more highlight-reel worthy plays — just like the moment against Ankeny.
During timeouts, Locure scanned the crowd. He saw his dad, his brothers and others from the North community. He saw Hurl Beechum, a two-time all-state center from the Polar Bears’ last state tournament team in 1991.
If that many people showed out for a substate final, Locure said, he expects even more Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Arena — and he can’t wait to put on a show.
“I can’t wait for the feeling,” Locure said. “I know everybody is going to be there. The whole community is going to be there, watching. It’s good that we made it to state, but we didn’t get to Wells Fargo just to say we got to Wells Fargo.
“We don’t want to just go to state. We want to win state.”
Cody Goodwin covers high school sports, college basketball recruiting and Drake athletics for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.