Tyus Jones | Write Your Own Story

by Kyle Ratke, Digital Content Manager

Digital Content Manager

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In the fall 2015, Justin Balvin, the Academic Dean of the Excel Academy for Higher Learning, had an idea.

His school was designated as a school that "beat the odds" by the Star Tribune. The distinction was given to 10 schools with more than 85 percent of students receiving a free or reduced prized lunch with the highest percentage of students in or above their grade level.

Balvin wanted to do something to honor his students’ academic achievements while also raising money for the school. As a former basketball player, he thought, why not do something on the court?

He decided he would try to shoot a perfect game of Around The World and called it the #BeatingTheOddsChallenge.

Balvin was hoping to make 13 shots in a row – including a half-court shot. Seems pretty unlikely, right?

Well, unlikely, maybe. But not impossible.

#BeatingTheOddsChallenge by this Dean while suited up! (via @ballinbalvin)

A video posted by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

In his first try, he hit all 13 shots.

He did more #BeatingTheOddsChallenge events and in front of students, continued to shoot very well – even with a tie still on. Local and national media picked up on the Challenge and eventually, Balvin decided he’d reach out to NBA and WNBA players about attempting the Challenge and/or donating to the school.

After the first video was released, a local star who Minnesotans know plenty about reached out to Balvin about how he could help.

He’s a first-round NBA draftpick. He’s a national champion and played for Duke. He was coveted by every college after four spectacular years at Apple Valley. And he plays for the Wolves?

Any guesses?

(The main picture should give it away.)

Yes, Tyus Jones.

“He wanted to tour the school and learn more about us without the kids knowing that he was here, I was really impressed by that,” Balvin said. “He genuinely wanted to learn more about our school and our kids and that's what it's all about.”

After Jones toured the school, he asked if he could come back and take the Challenge during a live assembly so the kids could be there for it as well.

Balvin’s answer?

“Well, duh?”

The students were unaware that Jones would be making an appearance. The school gave “golden tickets” to the 3rd-8th grade students, but they weren’t quite sure what it was for.

“The kids were shocked when they saw him walk into our gym,” Balvin said.

Before taking part in the Challenge, Jones shared his own story of overcoming obstacles to make it all the way to the NBA as a first-round draft pick. For a school encouraging that its students could beat the odds, Jones gave a similar message of “write your own story.” It is a motto that he has developed throughout his career on and off the court.

“He talked about doing whatever it takes to pave your own way and not let anything stand in the way of reaching your dreams,” Balvin said.

He was a natural fit to talk to the students because they were able to relate to Jones being his age (20) and his status in the Minneapolis community.

Jones spoke with the students, relaying his “Write Your Own Story” message to them. He also took part in the Challenge and put on a shooting clinic.

“Tyus was incredibly open and friendly with everyone he met here and really left a big impression on our school,” Balvin said. “Additionally, Tyus didn't want any media coverage of the event because he wanted the kids to know that he was doing this for them and not for his own personal gains.”

The ball Jones used for the Challenge is still in Balvin’s office and he has students that will stop in to check it out.

Jones has done a lot for the Minneapolis community as far as basketball is concerned. But he was able to combine his love for basketball and his love for community together with this event, and truly wanted to make it all about the children and their future.

"I was so inspired the other day by my time with the kids over at Excel Academy.  In my journey with both school and basketball, I have discovered that learning and education are such keys to life,” Jones said. “Life is really about pursuing excellence in all things, and that is certainly what is going on over Excel Academy.  I was honored to get to see that and I wish everyone there continued success in Beating The Odds, and continuing to Write Your Own Story.”

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