HOLLADAY — “We lived the life of luxury for three years with Rylan Jones.”
That sentiment is how Olympus coach Matt Barnes summed up the past three years coaching one of the most decorated point guards in state history.
“As a coach it was pretty easy to put it in his hands and let him take control and do what he did,” said Barnes.
What he did was lead Olympus to a 74-6 record the past three years, win a state title as a junior, shatter the career assists record and move into the top 12 in career scoring in the state of Utah. He soaked up every second of the high school experience along the way.
“Coming here and playing in this gym with full stands, full student section, little kids that look up to me. I just love doing it. It’s not a business yet,” said Jones. “I just love playing basketball.”
His role evolved during his four years playing varsity basketball — which included his freshman year at Logan — but every season Jones made huge improvements and along the way earned the respect of coaches he routinely beat.
He’s a special kid to watch and coach, he plays the right way. He defends, he takes charges, he rebounds, he filled the stat sheet up every night. He doesn’t care about scoring, that’s just a part of it. – Olympus coach Matt Barnes
“Hands down Rylan Jones is the best basketball player in the state,” said one coach from outside Olympus’ region.
Added another coach that’s gone up against Jones twice a year for the past three years, “Rylan controls the game on both ends of the floor. He can make game-winning steals, drives, 3-point shots, assists or rebounds. Whatever play needs to be made. I have not seen a high school player with his knowledge of how to play the game. I have been outcoached by Rylan Jones on more than one occasion.”
Jones and Olympus ultimately came up short in their quest to win back-to-back state championships this season. However, despite a bull's-eye on his back every night as the reigning Mr. Basketball recipient, Jones elevated his game even higher during his senior season and is once again the Deseret News Mr. Basketball recipient.
He joins Murray’s Jeff Johnsen (1995, 1996) and Lone Peak’s Tyler Haws (2008, 2009) as two-time winners in the 33-year history of the Deseret News Mr. Basketball award.
“He had a tremendous year. Obviously the bull's-eyes on our back from the great year before, all the expectations and pressure that come with being Mr. Basketball, I’m really proud of the way he handled things and led our team,” said Barnes.
The University of Utah commit finished the season averaging 21.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.0 assists and 3.0 steals. He improved in every statistical category but his assists, which was directly correlated to the need for Jones to take on a larger scoring role his senior season.
Last year’s Olympus team was a scoring juggernaut, and Jones facilitated that undefeated squad by breaking the single-season assists record with 266.
With only Jones and Jeremy Dowdell returning from that team, and not a ton of scoring options coming up through the Olympus pipeline, Jones knew well in advance he’d need to take on a much larger scoring role. He worked tirelessly throughout the offseason to physically be able to fulfill that role, which involved putting on 10 extra pounds between his junior and senior seasons.
“Coming into this year we knew that I was going to have to make harder shots because it wasn’t going to be so easy because our offense wasn’t as good as our junior year,” said Jones. “During the offseason I just worked a ton on my pull-up transition 3s. Coming off screens and shooting. Being able to make contested shots because I just wasn’t going to get layups and wide-open 3s like I did my junior year.”
In Olympus’ quarterfinal comeback win against Timpanogos he buried two pull-up transition 3s in the third quarter that effectively turned the game on a dime.
Even in the Titans’ semifinal loss to Corner Canyon he scored 25 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out 10 assists.
He finished his career scoring 1,933 points, just 12 points behind Jimmy Soto in the UHSAA record books for 12th place all time. Soto went on to have a great career at the University of Utah, a path Jones hopes to follow.
Jones finished his career with 743 assists, shattering the old state record by 106 assists. He also ended with 301 career steals, which ranks fifth in state history.
“He’s a special kid to watch and coach, he plays the right way. He defends, he takes charges, he rebounds, he filled the stat sheet up every night. He doesn’t care about scoring, that’s just a part of it,” said Barnes. “We didn’t have the horses like we had last year and he just had to take his game to another level, and he did that. He has a great feel for the game.”
The same drive and tenacity that allowed Jones to be one of the best point guards in state history is the same reason Barnes believes he’ll excel at the next level.
“I think he is going to be terrific. I know everyone is worried about his size, but I just think his basketball IQ and his smarts and his toughness will make him successful,” said Barnes, who coached past Olympus greats Marc Jackson and Shaun Green, who both went on to successful careers at Utah.
Barnes and some of his coaching peers were in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 tournament a couple weeks ago and watched as Oregon point guard Payton Pritchard helped lead the Ducks to the tourney title — and now the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
Barnes believes Jones’ game compares favorably to Pritchard, the way he pushes the pace, gets in the lane, finishes and distributes.
“It’s going to be a big adjustment, those guys are long, athletic, tough, quick. He’s going to have his work cut out for him, but I think he has the right mental approach, and he’s going to work hard and get better,” said Barnes.
He’s not the only one who believes in Jones’ ability to succeed at the next level. He’s made believers out of just about every high school coach in the state of Utah that he’s competed against over the past four years.