Tyus Jones loved his time at Duke, and he was so successful during his one year in Durham, leading the Blue Devils to a national championship, that he is now in position to fulfill his primary dream.
“It’s every kid’s dream to play in the NBA,” Jones said. “I just felt that I’m ready to make basketball my profession.”
Jones will join fellow Duke freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow in the NBA Draft pool, each leaving after one year and one national championship. Before this trio, Duke had a total of five one-and-done players in program history: Corey Maggette (1999), Luol Deng (2004), Kyrie Irving (2011), Austin Rivers (2012) and Jabari Parker (2014).
Jones was the most outstanding player of the Final Four, averaging 13.0 points, 4.5 assists, 1.7 steals and 3.2 rebounds per game in the NCAA tournament. He scored 23 points and recorded four assists in Duke’s national title win over Wisconsin.
“Tyus could not have done a better job for us this past year,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement released by Duke University. “We’re so very happy for him and his family to have the opportunity to declare for the draft. He is projected to be a first-round pick. He’s going to get a lot better, but people have already seen him and know how he handles himself, especially in pressure situations and in the biggest games.”
Jones spoke multiple times with Krzyzewski and assistant coach Jeff Capel, gathering feedback from NBA general managers about where they believe he would be drafted. Jones and his family feel confident that he will be a first-round pick, and that went a long way toward making their decision. Jones finalized his plans while at home in Minnesota last weekend.
While it was a forgone conclusion that Okafor would only stay one year, and it quickly became apparent that was the case with Winslow shortly after he arrived on campus last July, Jones was not initially expected to stay just one year. But his knack for delivering in big-time results in the biggest moments caused his stock to rise among NBA decision makers.
Jones’s departure does leave Duke without a point guard on the roster for the 2015-16 season. Entering Wednesday, the Blue Devils only had seven scholarship players for next year: forwards Marshall Plumlee, Amile Jefferson, Sean Obi (who sat out last year after transferring from Rice) and incoming 5-star recruit Chase Jeter, who is not as polished as these past three freshmen; and guards Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and 4-star signee Luke Kennard.
Wednesday night, Duke added 3-star center Antonio Vrankovic, a 6-foot-11 prospect from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., bringing the scholarship count to eight.
All three of the Blue Devils guards are accustomed to playing on the wing, though Allen is in the best position to handle point guard duties if necessary.
Jones could see Allen in that role.
“Grayson is a phenomenal player,” Jones said. “He is very aggressive, but he is a smart basketball player at the same time. That’s what could allow him to play some point guard next year.”
Duke does have a few other options to fill its point guard void. In an ideal world for Duke, 5-star junior Derryck Thornton would reclassify and graduate this year, skipping his final year of high school and enroll at Duke in time for next season. Thornton has not decided if he wants to reclassify – Scout.com recruiting analyst Evan Daniels tweeted that he would be surprised of that happened – and, if Thornton did reclassify, he would still have to pick Duke over Louisville, which is also pushing that plan for him hard.
Canadian junior point guard Jamal Murray is another potential player who could reclassify and enroll in college next fall, though Duke has not been on him near as long as Thornton, and Kentucky is also interested in him after his performance in last week’s Nike Hoop Summit game (30 points and five assists).
The other avenue for Duke to pursue is the graduate transfer market, but it has been thin on point guard prospects so far – just Villanova guard Dylan Ennis, the brother of former Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis, appears to be a Duke-caliber player.
Meanwhile, while Jones and Okafor are both making plans to move on from their shared dorm life in Durham, both still feel the national championship excitement, Jones said.
“I don’t know if that will ever wear off,” he added.
Duke fans will have that memory, too, throughout all of next season.