Nearly 20 years ago, Jonathan Tyson was the best boys’ basketball player in Union County. He was a 6-foot-6 forward who averaged 24 points and was selected all-state as a senior by USA Today after the 1996-97 season.
Today, Tyson is 2 inches taller and the principal at Piedmont High. His son, Hunter, is a 16-year-old junior on Piedmont’s basketball team. He is working on a basketball resume that might one day dwarf his father’s. As a sophomore, Hunter averaged 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.1 blocks.
His father was a star in college at Division II Wingate. Hunter Tyson, a 6-7 guard/foward, has Division I offers from Appalachian State, Charlotte, Clemson, Davidson, DePaul, East Carolina, Elon and Tennessee. He’s considered one of the top 10 recruits in North Carolina for the class of 2018.
“Hunter definitely has to be among the top three players in our conference (along with Weddington’s Ryan Schwieger and Sun Valley’s Hughston Finklea),” said Sun Valley coach Keith Mason. “He’s got potential for player of the year and he has really evolved his game from pretty much being a shooter to where he can get to the basket and make things happen for his teammates.
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“He’s gotten stronger. Before, you could push him around a little bit. But now, his body is also evolving with his game.”
Growing up, Tyson played mostly point guard because he was much smaller, and he developed ball handling and shooting skills. When he grew 8 inches between eighth and 10th grade, those skills remained, making him difficult to defend.
“I have seen a lot of (trick) defenses,” Tyson said. “Almost always, the defender will not help off me and face guard me. Whenever I drive, I get doubled. Last year, I heard ‘Shoot it, pretty boy’ or ‘You’re only a shooter.’ Stuff like that. It’s guys having fun, I guess. I don’t even listen to it anymore.”
Tyson is an excellent student, carrying a 4.6 grade-point average. He hasn’t made a B since eighth grade. He works as hard on his game as he does his academics. Most mornings, you’ll find Tyson and his father in Piedmont’s gym around 6 a.m. working on shooting and ball handling.
“We put him in some positions to work and that is what it takes,” said Jonathan Tyson, who was all-conference as a junior and senior in high school and later coached at Forest Hills High. “Hunter does a great deal of skill development stuff I learned in college.
“He worked really hard on his ball handling when he was younger and smaller. As he’s grown and gotten longer, he’s been able to maintain those perimeter skills. That’s helped him be a hybrid player.”
First-year Piedmont boys’ coach Jay Fitts was the girls’ coach at Forest Hills last season when he saw Tyson through a different lens.
“When I saw him at Forest Hills, you just saw this ability to score the basketball,” Fitts said. “But it wasn’t until I got over here that I didn’t realize how elite a shooter he was. He’s the best high school shooter I’ve ever seen. He can really shoot it.
“And pretty much everyone (college recruiters) who comes in here to look says he can shoot it at the highest level.”
Connecticut and Michigan have been on campus to watch Tyson practice this fall, and Fitts said N.C. State and Wake Forest have shown interest.
“So things have picked up quite a bit,” Fitts said. “His ceiling is really, really high. I can tell you that much. With his size and length, I think he gets a little shortchanged. He’s more athletic than people think he is and he can score in so many ways.
“He’s almost 6-8 and he can score off the (dribble), he can post up if he needs to, and he can shoot two or three feet behind the 3-point line. That becomes a really hard match up.
“I mean, how are you going to guard him?”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr