His championship dreams denied, Duke’s Tre Jones returns to his roots

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So it’s back to where it all began for Tre Jones.

He’s home in Minnesota, his sophomore season at Duke cut short by the coronavirus pandemic that wiped out live sports worldwide.

He’s preparing to enter the NBA just as he prepped for every other level of basketball — by playing, talking and analyzing the sport with older brother, Tyus.

“I’m staying with my brother right now, so I get to work out with him as much as we can and do as much from home that we can,” Tre Jones said Friday during a Zoom video conference with reporters.

Tyus Jones achieved as a freshman what Tre Jones hoped to be part of when he stayed with the Blue Devils for a second season.

Back in 2015, Tyus helped Duke win the NCAA Tournament and was named the event’s Most Outstanding Player.

With Tyus in the NBA, first for the hometown Minnesota Timberwolves and now with the Memphis Grizzlies, Tre came to Duke in 2018 aiming to claim his own championship glory.

As a freshman, Tre Jones was the starting point guard on Duke’s 32-6 team. Classmates Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish became NBA draft lottery picks, but they fell one win short of the Final Four.

Unlike those three, Jones stayed at Duke to let a hip injury heal and improve his overall game.

Those two things were accomplished as he averaged 16.2 points. 6.4 assists and 1.8 steals per game and was named the ACC player of the year.

“I feel like a lot of different aspects in my game grew this year,” Tre Jones said. “I feel like I was able to show that I can shoot the ball much better than I did last year. I think that was one of the biggest things that I improved on this year.”

With a 25-6 record entering the ACC tournament, Jones and the Blue Devils believed they were ready to repeat as league champions and challenge for the national title before the sports world came to a halt.

“It still doesn’t seem real,” Tre Jones said. “It still isn’t going on at this point because we are stuck at home. I think the way the whole team reacted definitely brought us closer. We all saw how bought in, how much we wanted it as a group, not just individually but totally as a group. We all felt like we were in a good position in March as a team and where we were headed.”

Jones said not being allowed to compete for a national championship did enter his mind as he mulled whether or not to end his college career and enter the NBA draft. In the end, he felt it was time to move to the sport’s highest level.

But instead of traveling around the country working out for prospective employers, he’s home in the Minneapolis area with his family. That includes Tyus Jones, whose career is on hold because the NBA suspended its season.

They work out together and catch some of the classic games that are being aired by television networks in place of the canceled NCAA Tournament games. That includes some of Tyus’ games from his Duke career and some of Tre’s Duke games too.

Outside of basketball, the brothers have important things to do with family. Their mother, Debbie Jones, was treated for breast cancer last year. Her treatments leave her in the high-risk category for severe complications should she contract coronavirus.

“Not letting her do anything or go anywhere,” Tre Jones said. “Trying to go to the grocery store for her and my grandma. Not letting them go anywhere or expose themselves or take any chances with this. We see how serious this is.”

Their mother’s illness was a harsh dose of reality about life’s fragility for the Jones brothers. This situation, having basketball taken away due to a public health emergency, is another.

They treasure their time together, even under odd circumstances.

“With something this serious going around, you never know what the future holds,” Tre Jones said. “I think we’ve all seen that now. Just spending valuable time with the people closest to you.”


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