It’s one thing to watch Apple Valley High School point guard Tyus Jones and DeLaSalle High School forward Reid Travis dominate players their own age and size.
It’s quite another to see them compete, and often succeed, against the likes of former Gophers forward and NBA hopeful Trevor Mbakwe.
Jones and Travis play on the Howard Pulley Academy team, featuring many players from their Amateur Athletic Union squad, in the Howard Pulley Pro City Summer League. Also competing in the seven-team league are numerous Gophers players of past and present.
“They get a lot of good experience,” said former Gophers forward Rodney Williams, who plays with Jones and Travis on the Pro City team. “If they can get out here and play with those guys, they can hang with the big boys in college.”
Jones, the No. 2 recruit in the nation according to Rivals.com and Travis (No. 40) are coveted 2014 recruits. Both have received scholarship offers from the Gophers.
Travis and Jones’ Howard Pulley squad battled the Sutherland Raiders team featuring Mbakwe and current Gophers players Kendal Shell and Oto Osenieks on July 2. The Raiders won the game 113-88, but Jones scored 34 points and Travis held his own, scoring 19 while banging with Mbakwe in the post.
“They’re really great players,” Mbakwe said after the game. “They’re going to have very successful careers. Tyus is probably the best player in the country, and Reid Travis is not too far behind.”
Mbakwe said he and Travis are similar players. Travis said Mbakwe provides the best matchup in the league for him, though other Gophers big men such as Mo Walker also participate.
“[I’m] just trying to match their physicality,” Travis said. “I think the biggest thing is not trying to back down, just trying to stay strong with them because [they’re] a measuring stick.”
Travis said he doesn’t win the matchups with the older players down low, but he doesn’t think he’s far behind.
Williams said Travis’ ability to bang down low, hit the midrange jump shot and get up and down the court will trouble future college teams trying to defend him.
Jones is tested as well. He faced Gophers guard and All-Big Ten performer Andre Hollins in a June 29 game. Jones starred, scoring 43 points.
Jones said he looks forward to playing against certain players in the league each week.
“It just pushes me,” he said. “I want to play against the best so good, elite guards like that --playing against them only makes me better.”
Jones said he doesn’t hesitate to get to the rim, even with players like the 6-foot-8-inch Mbakwe waiting there to meet him. He drove right at Mbakwe multiple times in the loss.
“You’ve still got to attack,” he said. “You can’t change your game because of who’s down low.”
The Pro City league provides an opportunity for Jones’ AAU team to improve as it heads to the Nike Peach Jam, the July 11 finals for its Elite Youth Basketball League season.
“That’s why we’re in [the pro city league]: so we can get better as a team,” Jones said. “Playing against grown men — bigger, stronger guys — just gets you better.”