Utah recruit Rylan Jones earns the Tribune Player of the Year award after leading Olympus to a state title

Three-year-old Rylan Jones would carry his little ball out on the court at halftime and shoot baskets during the AAU games his dad coached.

Surrounded by other kids, he’d heave it as high as his small body could muster, first hitting the net, then the rim, and then finally making a basket. Unlike the other kids though, as soon as the referees returned to the court, he’d sprint off. He knew what was coming next: they would clear the court, annoyed that this free-for-all was pushing back the resumption of the game. Why stay on the court and piss them off?

“It used to frustrate me to be honest with you,” said his father, Chris Jones. “Because I’m like,‘Hey, every other little kid’s out there shooting. Go shoot.’ ”

Now as Rylan finishes up his junior year of high school at Olympus, Chris can trace his son’s coachability back to then, before he could handle a full-sized basketball. It’s translated into three years of an impressive high school career so far and a performance this season that earned him The Tribune player of the year award.

“It’s just been a crazy year,” said Rylan Jones, who led his team to a state title and also was named the Utah Gatorade player of the year. “The best year of my life.”

Jones averaged a double-double this season, logging 18.6 points and 10 assists per game. He threw in an average of 6.7 rebounds for good measure.

“He really worked hard in the offseason on getting stronger, on being able to finish in the lane a little better and take contact and score,” Olympus coach Matt Barnes said, “... He’s unbelievable at how he finishes around the basket — his control, his strength. In high school, a lot of times kids get bumped or hit, and it just throws them all off balance. But he’s so crafty and so good.”

That kind of work ethic always was expected in the Jones house. Chris, the University of Utah men’s basketball director of operations, also has held assistant coaching positions at Westminster College and Utah State during Rylan’s lifetime.

He coached Rylan as long as he could before NCAA recruiting regulations restricted him from doing so.

“He put the ball in my hands,” Rylan said about his dad. “He gave me all the tools to be successful. He’s pushed me. He’s been my toughest coach, always pushing me to go harder in pivotal moments.”

Their deal was that Chris would be completely honest with Rylan. When he played well, he’s tell him. When he didn’t, Chris wouldn’t sugarcoat it. He’d also put Rylan on other coaches’ teams and move him up to higher age groups to vary his learning experiences.

“It’s hard in that parent-child relationship a lot of times for kids to listen to their parents,” Chris said. “I’m super lucky. We never had that problem. He’s always been super coachable.”

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Olympus junior Rylan Jones is the Salt Lake Tribune boys' basketball player of the year. He is photographed here in the upper avenues in Salt Lake City Wednesday April 11, 2018.

Rylan began high school at Logan, where the freshman was a regular starter. However, the family moved when Chis took the job at the University of Utah, and Rylan started anew at Olympus.

They moved in three days before school started, Rylan Jones said. Just like that he went from being the guy on the basketball team to the new guy. But he quickly carved out a spot on the team as an unselfish point guard. Jones wasn’t expected to score as often, but his skills as a facilitator made him just as valuable.

“I’ve had a unique and awesome high school experience,” Jones said. “I’ve played for two of the best coaches in the state.”

Logan coach Logan Brown poured confidence into him, giving him the belief in himself to take charge of a team. Barnes “the legend that he is,” as Jones put it, molded him into a state champion.

Jones led his team into the state championship game at the end of his sophomore season before disaster struck.

Jones couldn’t bring himself to watch the tape of Olympus’ 81-79 double-overtime loss to Springville until about two months ago. It was too painful.

It wasn’t that his 29-point, eight-assist and three-steal performance had been poor overall.

“But he had a couple untimely turnovers that were turning points in that game against Springville,” Chris Jones said. “And Springville, all the credit to them, they made him make those mistakes.”

So Rylan hit the gym, and he finally sat down to relive the disappointment of the previous year a few weeks before this year’s state tournament.

He was a different player in this year’s playoff run. He was 2 inches taller, 15 pounds heavier and he dictated the pace of the game in Olympus’ 76-49 win over Corner Canyon in the Class 5A state title game.

Minutes after the final whistle blew, Rylan met his father at the edge of the court. As a young child, Rylan had spent year after year following Chris around at state championship games. Rylan finally got to embrace his father at his own as a state champion.

“It was probably one of the proudest moments of my life, being able to hug him after we cut down the nets,” Rylan said. “It was unbelievable.”

RYLAN JONES <br>School • Olympus <br>Year • Junior <br>Position • Point guard <br>Height • 6 foot 1 <br>College choice • University of Utah <br>State record-holder • 266 assists in a single season (2017-18) <br>PAST TRIBUNE PLAYERS OF THE YEAR <br>2017 • Stockton Shorts, Copper Hills <br>2016 • Frank Jackson, Lone Peak <br>2015 • Jesse Wade, Davis <br>2014 • T.J. Haws, Lone Peak