For so long, Tylie Jones has been focused on the idea of team.
What can I do to help? Where can I improve? How can I be most encouraging?
Rigby’s senior guard did most everything this past season — playing out of position, grabbing rebounds, distributing — but to hear her tell it, it all comes back to what she values most: Her team’s success.
For that reason, it’s a little ironic that Jones has earned The Post Register’s All-Area Player of the Year honor by focusing so little on herself.
“I know that when I get better, my team gets better,” Jones said in a phone interview. “The key to basketball — who’s going to win or lose — is the strength of the team. So I always pushed myself to make myself the best I could be so that our team could be the best that we could be.”
By all accounts, Jones succeeded on both fronts. This season, she posted 14.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, which helped Rigby take third place at the 5A state tournament in the program’s third straight appearance in Nampa.
What makes Jones so effective is that she can do so much. She’s 6-foot even, which gives her the size to guard most everyone on the court, and she harbors a selfless attitude, which unlocked the Trojans’ offense when it mattered most.
You don’t have to look far to understand what we’re talking about. Check out what Jones did in her team’s three games at state.
Game 1: 15 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists.
Game 2: 24 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists.
Game 3: 16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists.
Those are solid numbers on their own merits, but consider who they came against. Rigby opened the tournament with a win over Post Falls, then lost to eventual champion Mountain View. In the Trojans’ tourney capper, a win over two-loss Coeur d’Alene, Jones had to play point guard because usual starter Naomi Nunez went down with a knee injury against Mountain View.
Not to worry. Jones delivered another all-around game, the kind that does a good job of capturing the way she likes to play — everywhere.
“Tylie can rebound, she can pass,” Rigby coach Troy Shippen said. “Her best improvement, I think, is her distribution of the ball – her passing, her assists, seeing the floor, her shot selection.”
Shippen might know Jones better than anyone, at least as a basketball player. That’s what makes these observations so valuable. He never had an epiphany, he said, never saw Jones make a particularly impressive play that raised his eyebrows.
Instead, Jones steadily improved on a consistent basis, shoring up holes in her game until few existed. In large part, that’s why Rigby became one of the best teams in 5A this season. At one point, the Trojans reeled off 10 straight wins. They headed to the state tournament having won 12 of 13 contests, including the 5A District 5-6 championship game over rival Thunder Ridge.
What made Jones so effective in that stretch, though, wasn’t just what she did on the court.
In years past, and especially last season, Jones took more of a backseat in the leadership department. She’s quiet anyway, so she deferred some of those responsibilities to her elders, understanding that it wasn’t entirely up to her to lead a team, at least not yet.
In 2020, when star Ruby Murdoch graduated, Jones realized those days were over. She was one of nine seniors on this season’s team, but she knew it was time for her to speak up, to become more vocal, to find ways to encourage her teammates in tight spots.
The reason she felt driven to do so might say it all.
“I wanted my team to do well, and I knew we could do well,” Jones said. “That helped me to be more comfortable and more vocal in that leadership position, and push the girls in practice, and get on them a little bit to get going.”
Even so, Jones said, the job wasn’t just hers. It belonged to everyone. There were nine seniors on the team, after all, which gave nearly everyone on the roster chances to encourage, to push, to calm their teammates down at times when the moment felt big.
They succeeded on each of those fronts. They left the state tournament with hardware. Jones played a starring role, but most importantly to her, the name on the plaque won’t be hers. It will be her team’s.
“I’ve just been playing with this group of girls for a really long time,” Jones said. “We’ve all stuck with it all these years. You get closer with all those 6 a.m. practices and late-night bus rides and all the time you spend together. We really did become best friends, and that allowed us to push each other, because we’re comfortable, and not afraid of stepping on anyone’s toes or hurting feelings.”