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The Right Hero for Tyus Jones

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December 7, 2012

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Tyus Jones began his junior year of high school basketball on Tuesday night when his Apple Valley team defeated St. Louis Park, 98-82.  Although Jones has two more seasons of basketball ahead, he would be remembered as one of Minnesota’s most legendary high school athletes if he never played another game.

The 6-foot-2, 16-year-old point guard is a preseason USA Today high school All-American.  College recruiting authorities place him on a short list of the nation’s prize recruits for the class of 2014.  He’s played for the USA Under 17 national team, been named the Gatorade Minnesota Boys Basketball Player of the Year in 2012 and in 2011 MaxPreps.com honored him on the freshmen All-American first team.

Jones is an extraordinary playmaker on the court.  He sees angles and makes passes that leave observers awestruck.  He creates and executes in a blur that seems completely natural, doing things that others might need a minute to plan and then attempt.

Jones could also be commanding headlines playing football and baseball, two other sports he pursued in his younger days.  But he’s more than a gifted athlete.  He’s a 3.2 GPA student and a polite, articulate teenager with family values including a commitment to caring for others.

He is worthy of the adulation from younger kids who press close to him for autographs and conversations.  But Jones has a hero, too—a much older man who reaches out to him, listens and inspires.

Dennis Deutsch is 75 and lives within minutes of Tyus in Apple Valley.  Dennis and his wife Sally are the parents of Tyus’ mom, Debbie Jones.  They are supportive grandparents including to Tyus.

Deutsch has a bad back, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and is in the process of hopefully locating a kidney donor.  “Well, the worst thing I’ve got, of course, is kidney failure,” Deutsch said.  “I take dialysis three days a week.”

He has had six kidney related surgeries this year.  With the kidney problems and other health issues the former Devils Lake, North Dakota resident endures a lot of pain and discomfort but his family and others make life easier for him.

He retired at age 74 from a business career in North Dakota and along with Sally relocated to Minnesota to more effectively deal with health problems and be closer to family including Deb, Jadee, Tyus and Tre, a talented seventh grade athlete with his own basketball ambitions.  The Deutschs attend basketball games and school activities including the recent early morning Eagle Pride recognition for Tyus’ academic achievement.

The transition of Dennis and Sally into a more visible place in Tyus’ life is something the teenager is grateful for.  “I’ve been getting more and more close every day with him,” Tyus said.  “He’s at all my basketball games.”

The two talk about many subjects including grandpa’s experiences as a paratrooper, or his love for poker (health permitting, he plays weekly at Canterbury Park).  “My grandpa, he’s a great man so I learn a lot from him,” Tyus said.

Grandpa doesn’t pester Tyus with advice but will share his wisdom.  “He’s definitely talked to me about risks,” Tyus said.  “Not to put yourself in bad situations in life.  My grandpa just wants the best for me.  He always has my back. …

“He’s always very, very caring and loving as a grandfather towards me.  It’s good to have family like I have because there’s people out there that don’t have the support that I do.”

Before Tuesday night’s game at St. Louis Park High School, Tyus renewed the tradition he has with the Deutschs.  “I always make sure I go speak to him, or walk with him entering the gym,” Tyus said.  “Spend time with him and my grandmother because they don’t have to be there but they’re supporting me.  I make sure I go and show I appreciate it.”

Dennis was in a wheelchair at courtside Tuesday evening, another reminder of the health problems that Tyus is so aware of.  “It hurts to see my grandfather go through that (health issues).  Some days he’ll be in a tremendous amount of pain, and you don’t wish to see that upon anybody, especially not my grandfather.

“But you would never know that he has to go through that.  He never complains.  He just gets up every day and just lives life.  It’s pretty amazing what he’s had to go through and what he has to go through still.  He just takes it and goes with it.  I feel extremely bad for him, my grandpa going through that.”

Debbie recalled how back home in Devils Lake her dad was community minded.  He led a fundraising effort to maintain Lake Region State College.  ”Without him doing the fundraising, the college probably doesn’t stay open,” she said.  “He’s always involved in everything.  That’s just how he’s been.”

Dennis said he was “born with a basketball on my back” but he wasn’t the player Tyus is or even Debbie who was twice an all-state point guard in North Dakota.  Back in the day, Dennis could be a feisty parent yelling at Debbie.

“He’s very emotional,” Debbie said.  “I remember…being on the court hearing him yell from the stands, ‘drive,’ or ‘shoot.’  He was very vocal.  He’s just very supportive.  Always been that.”

Debbie learned the game and has been sharing her knowledge with her sons.  She coached Tyus’ youth teams along with her sister Darcy Cascaes who is the athletic director at DeLaSalle.  Along the way Debbie encountered male chauvinism about women coaching boys from a man who suggested she “stay in the kitchen.”

From an early age Tyus has known he has basketball role models around him.  One of his brothers, Jadee Jones, played collegiately at Furman and he’s the junior varsity head coach for Apple Valley High School.  Another brother, Reggie Bunch, played college basketball at Robert Morris.  Tyus’ dad Rob Jones (he and Debbie are divorced) played at Chicago area prep power Proviso East and collegiately at Wisconsin-Parkside.  Rob and former Gophers guard Al Nuness are cousins.

With so much family in the Minneapolis area, will all that weigh on Tyus’ college choice?  He admitted it’s a factor but it won’t close the deal for the hometown Gophers.  Minnesota is on his list of eight final possibilities along with Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and Ohio State.

Where does Dennis believe Tyus will attend college?  “I have no idea.  We leave that strictly up to him.  The biggest decision he’s got to make is what his studies are going to be.”

Tyus said his grandfather wants him to take his time making the college choice, be sure he looks at “all aspects” of the decision and chooses a place where he will be happy.  Both Tyus and Dennis talk about the importance of academics, and although Tyus is uncertain of his major he said it could have “something to do with sports or broadcasting.”

But the basketball part of the decision is huge and Tyus knows it.  He could be in college only for a season or two before going to the NBA, fulfilling a career dream and benefitting himself and his family financially.  He wants to be part of a college team that plays fast, knowing an up-tempo style blends best with his playmaking.  It’s also important, he said, to be surrounded by talented players whose company he enjoys both on and off the court.

Neither Tyus nor his mother are sure when the college choice will be decided.  He’s already made several unofficial visits to schools that interest him.  As a junior in high school he can start making official visits to schools next year.  He can sign a National Letter of Intent binding him to a school next November.

The family follows the Gophers and while Tyus indicated Minnesota could be his final choice no one can count on that.  Sally said if he chooses a school other than the Gophers “we hope he’s on TV a lot.”  Mom is prepared to buy a “ton of airline tickets.”

What about grandpa and Tyus?  “I think we’ll both accept it (whatever the choice) when the day comes,” Tyus said.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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