The first time Tyus Jones practiced with Apple Valley High School's varsity basketball team, he was just an eighth-grader, little known outside the Twin Cities.
But the legend of Tyus Jones was already growing — and the evidence was standing in the corner of the gym.
Minnesota Coach Tubby Smith was there from the beginning.
Three years later, Jones is considered by many to be the No. 1 overall prospect in the junior class.
And Smith has plenty of company.
"He's being talked about as one of the best high school players ever in Minnesota," said Zach Goring, the head coach at Apple Valley. "He's getting crowds that I don't know if a player has ever gotten in this state. Every game is full.
"We're playing in all the big events in Minnesota, and gyms are packed three games before Tyus is going to play, just to make sure they can get in."
Jones will make his first unofficial visit to the University of Kentucky this weekend. The 6-foot-1 point guard plans to arrive Friday and stick around Saturday to see Kentucky play Texas A&M in Rupp Arena.
UK Coach John Calipari has already made the trip to Minnesota twice this season, letting Jones know he is one of the Cats' top priorities in the 2014 class.
Goring said head coaches from all eight schools on Jones' list have come to see him at least once since the season began. Those schools are UK, Minnesota, Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Ohio State, Baylor and Kansas.
Smith has been recruiting Jones hard, and the point guard has seen the Gophers play several times at Williams Arena, where the crowd regularly chants, "We want Tyus!" during games.
Goring said his star "very rarely" talks about his recruitment.
"You have to drag it out of him," Goring said.
Jones is ranked by Scout.com and ESPN as the No. 1 overall player in 2014. He's often compared to Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul, who is considered to be the best point guard in the NBA.
"I hear that a lot," Goring said.
Goring acknowledged the similarities between the two and said Jones also reminds him of another NBA point guard: the San Antonio Spurs' Tony Parker.
"He's that sort of player that's getting in the lane a lot and knocks down the open shot," Goring said. "They control the game. They're not super explosive or high flyers. They're just solid and make good decisions. That's along the lines of Tyus, certainly.
"His basketball IQ is through the roof."
As the legend has grown, so have the crowds.
Apple Valley played last week at the Target Center — home of the Minnesota Timberwolves — which has hosted at least one of the school's games in each of the past three seasons to give local fans a better chance to see Jones play.
If fans want to watch Jones in Apple Valley's 2,000-seat facility, they usually have to get there well before the scheduled tip-off.
Many of them stay well after the final buzzer.
"He has a hard time getting out of the gym with people wanting to take pictures with him, get an autograph," Goring said. "There will be senior citizens, adults, teenage girls, 4-year-old boys. It's kind of all across the spectrum as far as fans of his up here.
"Everyone knows who Tyus Jones is."
Ben Roberts: (859) 231-3216Twitter: @NextCatsBlog: ukrecruiting.bloginky.com