While Tyus Jones has been to St. Cloud for four straight years, he has missed playing in two of the past three Breakdown Granite City Classics because of injuries.
Barring a slip in the bathtub, Jones and the Apple Valley Eagles will play games Friday and Saturday in St. Cloud as part of The Breakdown Granite City Classic.
“It’s a place I’ve been to the past few years, but unfortunately, I’ve been hurt two of the three years we’ve been there,” said Jones, a 6-foot-2 point guard for the defending state Class 4A champions who committed to Duke in November.
There are six games both days, with Apple Valley in the spotlight, largely because of Jones.
He missed the tournament his freshman year with a lacerated kidney. He played as a sophomore when the Eagles won twice. Last year, he was out with back spasms.
“It’s always a great tournament,” Jones said by phone. “The past four years, it’s been a great tournament with a lot of good teams.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s run very, very well. It’s always a blast to get away and go some place for Christmas break. I’m looking forward to it.”
Jones is arguably the biggest name to play in the Granite City Classic, which has had a high school-only format since the early 1980s and goes back to early 1970s.
Players like Park’s Sam Jacobson (a former first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers) and Monticello’s Joel Przybilla (a 7-footerand long-time NBA player) have ventured to the Granite City Classic in the past.
Jones might be the next.
Jones is so popular, he has his own entry on Wikipedia and more than 27,000 followers on Twitter.
He and his team already have been on national television, losing to Jahlil Okafor and Chicago Whitney Young 80-70 on Dec. 12 in game televised by ESPN2.
Okafor, a friend of Jones, also is headed to Duke.
“I tried to get them to go to St. Cloud State,” Apple Valley head coach Zach Goring quipped.
Goring is a former St. Cloud State player whose team once again is in the national spotlight.
The Eagles were ranked 41st in the nation by USA Today before Christmas.
Jones is considered one of the top five seniors in the nation, depending upon who’s ranking you are using. (Okafor is No. 1).
It’s not hard to get Goring to return to St. Cloud, where he played for Huskies head coach Kevin Schlagel for four seasons.
“Obviously, with me being a St. Cloud State alum, I really like coming back to St. Cloud every year,” he said. “(The Breakdown’s) Justin Hegna and Dean Kesler (the Apollo coach) always treat us so good and do such a great with the tournament.
“We’re excited to have the kids get a chance to play at Halenbeck Hall. St. Cloud State people who attend the games, they are die-hard fans, very knowledgeable.
“The St. Cloud area really enjoys their basketball. The games are well-attended. We look forward to playing there.”
The Classic starts at 11 a.m. Friday. The top-ranked Eagles (7-1) play No. 9 Roseville Area at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Apollo High School.
At 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Apple Valley faces Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (6-0), the No. 1-ranked team in Class A, at St. Cloud State’s Halenbeck Hall.
Ask Jones about it and his response is respectful and insightful. He’s as smooth at a media interview as he is as a player.
“Roseville Area, we saw them in the fall league,” Jones said. “They are very solid team, well-coached. They have good bigs and their guards are really good, Kyler Briggity and (Kobe) Critchley.”
“I do not personally know much about them, but like you said, people are talking about it. It’ll be at the St. Cloud State gym and that will be fun for us and should create a really good atmosphere.”
As they showed last year in going 2-0 at the Classic, Apple Valley is more than one player. The Eagles are loaded.
Up front, they start Brock Bertram, Robert Tobrozen and Dennis Austin. Bertram a 6-10 sophomore who is getting major college attention, Goring said.
Tobrozen is a 6-6 senior who has been a regular for four seasons.
Austin is a 6-3 senior with a great work ethic, Goring said.
In the backcourt, there is Gary Trent Jr., a 6-foot-3 freshman who is the son of former Minnesota Timberwolf Gary Trent Sr.
Backing up Jones is Tre Jones, Tyus’ brother and an eighth-grader.
“With Tre and Gary, we should be very good the next couple of years,” Goring said.
The Eagles go 12 deep. They put up plenty of points, beating a decent Bloomington Kennedy squad 100-75 in their last game.
Goring said he has players not starting, including 6-4 sophomore forward Cam Kirksey, 6-6 senior Trey Pipkins and 5-10 sophomore guard Jordan Bolton, who are receiving inquiries from college scouts.
With his college decision behind him (Jones was recruited by almost everyone), it’s no wonder Tyus Jones is having fun.
“I’m really enjoying it personally,” he said. “The team’s enjoying it right now.
“It’s a good group of guys. We have great chemistry on and off the court. That really helps.”
The tough part now is trying to defend as state champions.
“Obviously, winning it was a lot of work,” Jones said. “We finally got over the hump last year.
“But defending it is tougher. It’s a great challenge. Every single game everyone is coming after you. You can’t take a night off and you’ve got to work hard in practice and stay focused.”
The focus in on him and the Eagles this week in St. Cloud.
There is a a lot of other talent coming to St. Cloud, of course.
Of the 12 teams attending, six are ranked, including: Apple Valley (No. 1, Class 4A), Champlin Park (No. 5, 4A), Roseville (No. 9, 4A), Delano (No. 6, 3A), Big Lake (No. 10, 3A) and Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (No. 1, A).
In addition, St. Francis and Blake were ranked earlier in the season. Stillwater, Prior Lake and Sartell all were in the top 20.
“I don’t know again if you could can ask for anything more,” said Hegna of The Breakdown, a former St. Cloud State player and head girls basketball coach at Becker.
“It is clearly the best field of teams in the state for a two-day classic.
“(They are) great traditional programs with classy coaches. Any person in the St Cloud area won’t want to miss out having these schools right here in our backyard.
“The games at SCSU will be great and it’s nice we have plenty of room for all the fans.”