From Duke to the NBA … to Idaho.
It’s not the most orthodox path for a young basketball player who is expected to have a long NBA career, but it turns out to be Tyus Jones’ destiny.
Jones was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four in April after leading Duke to a national championship as a freshman.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound point guard was selected in the first round (24th overall) by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Draft. The Minnesota native was then sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a draft-day trade.
The Timberwolves’ roster is loaded at point guard with Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin and Andre Miller, so finding minutes for the 19-year-old Jones hasn’t been easy.
As a result, Minnesota General Manager Milt Newton decided to try to find a good fit for Jones in the NBA Development League. That spot turned out to be the Stampede.
“You never think Idaho, but it’s just another blessing,’’ said Jones, a three-time Minnesota High School Player of the Year. “Basketball brings people to so many different places, and now I can add this to my list.”
The Timberwolves aren’t affiliated with a D-League team, so Jones went through a flexible assignment process. During that process, Minnesota reached out to Idaho coach Dean Cooper.
“I’ve coached there, so I have some ties with their front-office people,” Cooper said. “They know me, and I know them. … I said I’d love to have him, and it worked out.”
Jones will be in a Stampede uniform Wednesday night as Idaho hosts Texas at CenturyLink Arena.
And while Jones has never been to Idaho before, he got the inside scoop on Boise from someone who knows his way around town: Former Stampede head coach Bryan Gates is an assistant coach for the Timberwolves.
“We’ve built a good relationship,” Jones said. “He’s a great coach, but also a great guy. Off the court, he cares about you as a person, and he’s really down to earth. So I love him.”
Gates has quickly become a huge fan of Jones, who had a game-high 23 points as Duke topped Wisconsin for the national title.
“He’s a lot better than I thought he was going to be this early,” Gates said. “He’s a talented, talented kid. … His teammates love playing for him. They don’t like playing for him, they love playing for him.”
But Jones’ teammates have mostly seen him on the practice court: He has played just 14 minutes while appearing in two games for the Timberwolves. Expect Jones to be a hungry player when he takes the CenturyLink Arena floor in a Stampede uniform.
“Obviously, you want to be in the NBA,” he said. “But sometimes it’s best for you to come down and get some minutes and make sure you’re staying in game shape. For me, that’s how I’m looking at it. … When you’re a competitor, you want to play.”
Gates said the experience will be a good one for Jones and Stampede fans.
“I know how Boise is … and they’re going to love that he’s there,” Gates said. “This will be good for Tyus. Tyus is a perfect candidate for assignment, and this is why the D-League is where it’s at.”
NOTES: The Stampede have added two NBA players to their roster since their last home game Nov. 28. The parent club Utah Jazz assigned center Tibor Pleiss to Idaho on Nov. 30, and the Stampede re-acquired guard Phil Pressey after he was waived by the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 4.
Three-game homestand for Stampede
- Games: Texas at Idaho, 7 p.m. Wednesday; Bakersfield at Idaho, 7 p.m. Friday; and Bakersfield at Idaho, 8 p.m. Saturday (Note: Saturday’s tip-off has been moved back one hour. Fans who attend the 5 p.m. Boise State- Oregon game can buy a half-price ticket to the Stampede game.)
- TV: Cable One 72
- Radio: 630 AM
- Boise State connection: Former Broncos guard Thomas Bropleh is averaging 5.7 points in seven games with Texas.