Aug. 16—MINNEAPOLIS — Not everybody has a connection with NBA players. Even fewer have the right resume when those professional hoopers are trying to field a team.
But when Memphis Grizzlies guard Tyus Jones was building his roster for the Twin Cities Pro-Am, Mohamed Kone came to mind.
"Ever since I knew about the pro-am in high school, it was always such a big deal being able to watch these pros and these high-level college players," said Kone, an incoming fifth-year on the Bemidji State men's basketball team. "I was like, 'Man, hopefully I can play in the pro-am someday.' ... Now being able to play is another great feeling."
The popular pro-am pits high-level talent against high-level talent. Participants include NBA players, overseas pros, college athletes and the occasional high schooler. Jones has championed the league in recent years, and his investment has sparked
a massive boom reverberating from the packed gymnasium of Minnehaha Academy.
Kone, who played high school basketball with Jones at Apple Valley, has now been front and center for it. Kone has played on Team Tyus the past two summers — and this year, Team Tyus ran the table as the first undefeated champion in league history.
"It's a blast, I'm not going to lie," said Kone, who won the title game on Aug. 11. "I really do have fun playing with my friends and playing against my friends, too. It's nice to be able to do this. Not even for just ourselves but also for the fans.
"At the end of the day, we want to go out and put on a show to let people know that Minnesota basketball is really good basketball. Obviously we're good at hockey, but we want people to know that we really represent basketball to the fullest."
Those branding Minnesota as the "State of Basketball" — a play on the state's claim to fame as the "State of Hockey" — have a strong case. Just on Team Tyus, the roster features NBA players in Tyus Jones, Tre Jones, Theo John and Daniel Oturu. Minnesota has also produced national headliners like Chet Holmgren, Jalen Suggs and Paige Bueckers just in the past few years, as well.
"Minnesota, we're always slept on as a basketball state, but the fans enjoy basketball, enjoy getting out to see basketball," Tyus Jones recently told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "So, when (the Twin Cities Pro-Am) is run the right way, like it has been, the talent is there, people are going to come out and watch. It's going to be cool to see how it continues to grow."
Kone has spent the last two winters
in a Bemidji State jersey, assuming a significant role as the team's starting point guard.
But after 2021-22, his desire was to take a Division I-sized step forward.
Kone entered the transfer portal in early March to "test the waters" for his final season of eligibility. But by late May, he ultimately opted to come back to the Beavers.
"Obviously (the transfer portal) didn't go the way I wanted, but I always had BSU in the back of my head to return," Kone said. "I still have love for BSU. I never left on bad terms. I want to go back because it was a good fit, knowing I can come back and already know the team well, know the coaches and everything."
And thanks to the demanding nature of the Twin Cities Pro-Am, Kone expects to be sharper for his last hurrah.
"It definitely forces you to be a better basketball player," he said. "Being able to play around such high-level talent, it does nothing but improve your game. ... Playing against mostly pros throughout the whole summer and then coming back to Bemidji, it gives me that edge and that little level up."
Before it's all said and done, Kone has one season left to make a mark with Bemidji State. He mentioned targeting the program's single-season assist record as an individual goal, but his main focus remained team-oriented.
"I know I have to step up and be one of the leaders," Kone said. "I'm willing to take that role and try to make BSU's season better than it was last year. ... I'm excited to come back and make some noise."