In virtually any other basketball season, Woodbury guard Michael Jones would vie for all the top individual honors.
Jones averages 28.1 points per game, second in Class 4A. He’s got the Division I college scholarship. He’ll play at Davidson, the North Carolina school that produced Stephen Curry. And he’s got the team. Woodbury is in the hunt for a third consecutive Suburban East Conference title.
The competition in this senior class is fierce, however, with Duke-bound guard Tre Jones (no relation) leading the way. Then there’s the trio committed to the Gophers: DeLaSalle guard Gabe Kalscheur and big men Daniel Oturo of Cretin-Derham Hall and Orono’s Jarvis Thomas Omersa.
But Jones, a 6-5 guard whom Royals coach Kent Getzlaff rates as the state’s best pure shooter, isn’t flustered. He is satisfied knowing he is part of the state’s great basketball fabric.
“There’s definitely a big basketball community in Minnesota, and the crop of talent we’ve had in the senior classes this year and last year is really promising,” said Jones, adding, “I don’t feel the need to worry about the rankings or anything. I’m just trying to go out and make sure I’m better than I was the day before.”
The arc of Jones’ high school career resembles his shot. Upward. On target. And landing in the desired spot. As a freshman, he played point guard for Woodbury’s junior varsity team. A growth spurt after the season added 3-4 inches to his frame.
He averaged 12.3 points per game as a sophomore, relishing the highs and learning from the humbling moments. He had 21 points, tying for game-high, in a December victory against crosstown rival East Ridge. Then five nights later, the Royals lost at Cretin-Derham Hall.
“That really stuck with us the rest of the season,” Jones recalled. “I feel like we really rebounded well.”
Woodbury really hasn’t looked back in Jones’ tenure, losing just three conference games since.
Mostly a catch-and-shoot perimeter player as a sophomore, Jones got to the rim as a junior. He averaged 24.9 points per game, answering Getzlaff’s challenge to take more responsibility within the offense.
Last summer he worked on creating his own shot and rebounding. The results have been impressive.
“He made an even bigger jump between his junior and senior year than a lot of people — even myself — thought he was going to make,” Getzlaff said.
Jones scored at least half of his team’s points in four of the first 13 games this season. He also has matched up well against fellow elite players.
Jones and Thomas Omersa both scored 18 points in Woodbury’s loss to Orono. Jones outscored Park Center’s Jarvis Cook and Lakeville South’s Shae Mitchell. And his 33 points against East Ridge were just four fewer than the Raptors’ talented tandem of Courtney Brown and Ben Carlson produced.
“He’s had the 30-point games against the teams that also have very good players,” Getzlaff said. “That’s as big of a sign as any that he belongs right with those guys.”
Scoring in bunches sounds like any player’s dream. But it’s difficult.
“You know you’re going to get the opposing team’s best player, their best effort,” Jones said. “That’s really a grind every night. And there’s a little pressure because, if we want to have a great chance to win, I have to play pretty well. But I love that part of the game, stepping up to the challenge.”
Woodbury’s goals this season — 20 victories, a conference title and a state tournament run — mean Jones must continue his scoring ways.
“He’s the clear leader, and we wouldn’t be where we are without him,” Getzlaff said. “But he also does a really good job of helping put other guys in position to help the team in these big games when Mike knows there’s going to be a lot of focus on him.”