When Duke’s epic recruiting class first started making headlines and taking over the national spotlight entering the 2018-19 season, it was all about Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish. Pretty much in that order.
Sometimes that other five-star prospect in the Blue Devils’ 2018 class was mentioned as an afterthought, “Oh, by the way there’s also …” That other guy being Tre Jones, who like his older brother, Tyus, went from earning McDonald’s All-America honors at Apple Valley to starting at point guard for Coach K.
What recruiting experts and folks in Minnesota already knew, the rest of the basketball world didn’t realize until later — that Jones would be the reason why Williamson and Barrett especially (1-2 prospects in the next NBA Draft) led Duke to the No. 1 ranking and became the biggest must-see TV squad in college basketball.
Great college basketball teams have a great point guard. That’s why you see Michigan (Zavier Simpson) and Virginia (Ty Jerome) still undefeated, while Gonzaga (Josh Perkins) and Michigan State (Cassius Winston) are in the mix for top seeds in the NCAA tournament.
As good as Jones was coming out of high school, though, he was underrated in some ways. Hard to believe, right? Well, he was overshadowed by Tyus’ accomplishments in college.
It almost seemed unfair to automatically assume Tre would lead Duke to a national championship, earn Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors and become a first-round draft pick in his first year.
As the Blue Devils rose to the top again and became a national title favorite this season, it became clear to just about everyone that Tre Jones was as good as his bro. He was a catalyst in his own way (meaning slightly different). He ran the show but also was a lockdown defender.
That’s why Duke fans and just fans of the game in general gasped when Jones writhed in pain on the court during the first half of a loss to Syracuse earlier this week. As he left the game and was ruled out for the second half, you could almost envision Blue Devil Nation’s championship hopes flashing before their eyes. That was even before the overtime loss.
Jones’ injury was diagnosed as a right AC joint sprain, which is where the collarbone meets the top of the shoulder. At first the announcement was the 6-2 floor leader would be out indefinitely, meaning it could be lingering. But more optimistic news on Jones’ status broke late Thursday afternoon with Mike Krzyzewski telling reporters, “he’s going to be back” sooner than later.
“I don’t know if it’s for this game or the next game,” he said, “but it’s not going to be long-term, where it’s a month or something.”
In an ideal world, Jones wouldn’t miss a game and help lead Duke in a huge bounce back victory at home against No. 4 Virginia on Saturday. That probably isn’t the best for his long-term health and expectations to be that point guard needed for another title run.
Marcus Fuller covers college basketball for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @Marcus_R_Fuller