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Despite NBA pedigree, Jones a natural at hockey

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TSN.ca Staff
8/17/2011 9:48:24 PM
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It's not necessarily the crossover Popeye Jones was thinking of.

Jones, the journeyman power forward who spent 11 seasons on six different NBA teams, had envisioned a pro career for his middle son, Seth.

Having had his three sons spend plenty of time with him in various locker rooms in the NBA, it seemed like hoops was an obvious choice.

"He's built like a basketball player," said father Popeye, now an assistant coach with the New Jersey Nets. "He's 6'3", 6'4". He has long arms, can handle the ball, he's left-handed, can handle the ball. He can dunk."

So it still comes as somewhat of a shock to his father that 16-year-old Seth is starring in hockey instead. In fact, the standout defenceman has made headlines for cracking Team USA's summer roster for the upcoming World Junior Hockey Championship.

And for those that like projections, Seth Jones is already receiving much buzz and fanfare as one of the potential top draft choices for 2013 - the first year he becomes NHL Draft-eligible.

"He was kind of disappointed, or confused a bit. He had no idea what hockey was," Seth recalls. "My dad played basketball. I didn't really get into it. It just wasn't fast enough for me."

"We'd always ask him: 'you want to play baseball, you want to play basketball?' He'd always say no. He wouldn't say I love hockey, he'd say, I'd love to skate," Popeye said. "As a parent, you're like 'ice hockey?' Especially as a professional basketball player. I don't know anything about ice hockey."

A few choice encounters sent the Jones boys down the hockey path. While in Dallas, Popeye befriended then-Stars captain Mike Modano, who invited the young Mavericks forward and his family to a charity hockey event, which became an annual occurrence.

Then, while with the Nuggets, the Pepsi Center's other tenant, the Avalanche, were consistent Stanley Cup contenders. With Seth's sports interest leaning to the ice, Popeye ran into then-Avalanche captain Joe Sakic.

"I stopped him and started talking to him," Jones recalls. "I said, 'Joe, my kids want to play ice hockey. I don't know anything about ice hockey. What do I do?' He looked at me and said 'from the look of you, your kids are going to be huge, and they're going to be good athletes. You're just going to have to teach them how to skate.'"

Jones has excelled since joining Team USA's National Team Development Program. On the Under-17 squad, he scored four goals and 17 assists. He was also able to get in 20 games with the U-18 team, where he posted 10 assists. He culminated his year by helping the Americans win gold at the World U-18 Championships in Germany, where Jones had three assists in six games.

But his impact on a game goes beyond goals and assists. Ask those who see him on a regular basis, and they rave about all the intangible qualities he brings to the table.

"The puck skills and the skating skills - that's one part of it. He sees the ice very well. He makes good decisions out there," said Jim Johannson, general manager of USA's National Junior Team. "He has hockey sense in all aspects of the game."

His U-17 coach, Danton Cole, described his star blueliner to Yahoo! Sports as a point guard.

"When it needs to go fast he speeds it up," Cole says. "When it needs to go slow he slows it down. His poise and maturity are an interesting combination. He's a tremendously mature young man as well. That kid was born to play hockey."

But there's still basketball influences that have helped carve out his promising career too. While his dad was with Dallas, Seth had a chance to watch NBA All-Star Dirk Nowitzki put in work on a daily basis. It was a great lesson for Jones to see such talented players who were so dedicated to their craft.

"You notice how much work he puts into it behind the scenes that nobody else sees and how much it pays off in games," Jones said.

And then there's that basketball-like swagger, which came into play when he accepted the challenge of trying to make the U.S. World Junior squad.

"People always tell me go for the experience. Even if you don't make it, it's okay," he said. "I don't really roll that way. I came here to make the team."

Count it as another feat accomplished in a sport that his father has yet to fully get a grasp of.

"Was I surprised that he made the cut? Ya, a little surprised," Jones said. "But when he puts his mind to something, he's pretty good at accomplishing things."

Seth Jones (Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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