AUSTIN, Texas — Tyrone Jones still marvels at the memory.
His 5-year-old son is holding a toy basketball. It stands a few yards from the Fisher Price basketball goal at her home in Pflugerville, Texas. He takes shot after shot.
“It was magical, man,” Jones said. “You could see it.”
Even as a small Tike, Caleb Asberry had potential.
shot after shot. make after make.
The love for the game developed early on. Asberry rarely let go of that basketball.
“I remember basically holding that little orange ball in my hands all day like it never left me,” Asberry said.
That was Jones’ first sign that Asberry would be different.
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This old gate was eventually swapped out for an electronic nerf gate until Asberry and his younger brother outgrew it and were forced to a new gate outside. But Jones will be thinking about the first goal on Tuesday night.
His son will play on the biggest stage in front of 20 or more friends and family near his hometown.
When the rising state of Oklahoma meets 10th-ranked Texas at the new Moody Center late Tuesday night, Asberry will be just 20 minutes from home, taking on a team he championed as a kid.
Now he’s a dynamic sixth man for the Cowboys, making a huge difference as a transfer super senior to an experienced team finding their way.
“I feel like I could be somewhere else,” Asberry said. “I’ve magically ended up in Oklahoma State and will probably get to play at one of my dream schools. It’s a blessing.”
Asberry, a 6-foot-3 guard, averages 8.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 24.4 minutes per game. He has scored the top 12 team 3-pointers in the last five games.
And he was a revelation defensively, playing lockdown defense on the rim and showing an athleticism that allows him to block shots.
“He’s playing with a chip on his shoulder,” said OSU coach Mike Boynton. “He thinks he should have been at this level his whole career. He wants to show in these games and environments that he is as good as everyone else on the pitch.”
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At Pflugerville High, he was largely unrecruited. Jones partially attributed this to a late start at the AAU circuit. Only NAIA schools and junior colleges offered scholarships.
“It was pretty difficult to deal with,” Asberry said, “because let’s face it, every athlete dreams of playing in Division I and when that didn’t happen I was devastated, but I never showed it.”
So Asberry bet on himself. He went to Ranger (Texas) College to play for Billy Gillispie.
It was there that Asberry learned the importance of an all-around game.
Asberry figured a junior college coach wouldn’t care about defense. However, Gillispie stressed the importance. That was all that mattered to the experienced coach.
“I didn’t even care about defense,” Asberry said. “Since I left Ranger, all I’ve ever thought about is defense. That’s how you play.”
After one season, Asberry moved to Texas State, where he played for another defense first coach – Danny Kaspar – for a season. After Kaspar resigned, Asberry played for Terrence Johnson for the next three seasons and continued to improve as a defenseman while becoming an All-Sun Belt First Team selection last season.
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“I think it actually worked out best for us,” Jones said of the trip.
But Asberry wanted to prove he could play at the highest level.
He entered the transfer portal. OSU was quick with him. Texas showed interest, although only strong after Asberry began focusing on the Cowboys. But Asberry was never comfortable with the Longhorns, despite having two former Austin-area opponents in Dylan Disu and Brock Cunningham.
“I felt like I didn’t get any respect there,” he said. “I felt like they weren’t honest about who they were going to be. I felt like there was a better opportunity here.”
Jones and his wife, Mildred Asberry, immediately noticed a change in their son.
He was farther from home than ever before. He answered the phone faster. He spoke longer and more openly with his family. He became more independent.
And he’s matured.
“Look, this guy’s got some muscles,” Jones told his wife last summer.
Asberry made an immediate impression with his defense. His shooting skills were also in demand.
And despite missing two games in December due to illness, he quickly made his mark in Big 12 play. He averages 8.3 points (fourth on the team) and 4.6 rebounds (runner-up). He also only had six turnovers.
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He’s been getting his money’s worth lately.
He played a pass off the back of OU’s Grant Sherfield late in last week’s Bedlam win. He also had a massive alley-oop dunk against the Sooners. He wasn’t afraid to take big shots in big moments. He has become vocal as a leader.
“His aggression has hurt us at times, whether it’s not really concentrating on executing our plays or fouling unnecessarily far from the basket,” Boynton said. “But you have to have a certain level of guts to play this game with and he certainly plays with a lot of guts.
“I think part of that comes from the fact that he’s been coached really, really well. He also has solid fundamentals.”
Asberry is ready to show that to his hometown.
He played once at Texas State and was knocked out at Austin. This time he has a chance to win.
“It’s going to be fun because I was recruited by them outside of the portal,” Asberry said. “That and it’s always good to be home.”
Jacob Unruh covers collegiate sports for The Oklahoman. You can send him your story ideas at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jacobunruh. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by:Buy a digital subscription today.
How to watch Oklahoma State vs. Texas
TIP: Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Moody Center in Austin, Texas (LHN)