Seth Jones is used to being known as “the hockey-playing son of a former NBA player.” He’s also used to getting asked about it a lot.
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“You know, it’s typical,” said Jones, a native of Plano, Texas, and defenseman for the U.S. National Under-18 Team at the National Team Development Program. “If I were a reporter, I’d probably ask the same thing. I don’t get sick of it, but it definitely comes around a lot.”
Even though his family history makes it something of a challenge — his father, Ronald “Popeye” Jones, had an NBA career that spanned all of 11 seasons and was marked by stints with the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets — the younger Jones hopes that one day his game will speak for itself.
“It’d be awesome, however far I go in my career, to eventually be known as ‘Seth Jones’ and not ‘Popeye’s son,’ ” he said.
Although Jones won’t be eligible for the NHL Entry Draft until 2013, the big, mobile defenseman has already begun turning heads and garnering considerable attention from all directions. You might even call it hype. It’s the sort of attention that can weigh heavily on an individual’s mind if left unattended.
Jones doesn’t see it that way.
“I don’t think of it as pressure,” he said. “It’s obviously a huge compliment when you have the media wanting to talk to you. Whatever happens, it’s going to be on me, and I’m not really doing this for anybody else.”
Spoken like a player who is wise beyond his years.
“I think he handles it pretty well,” said Danton Cole, head coach of the U.S. Under-18 Team. “The background that pro athletes’ sons have lends itself to them understanding that [the attention] is a necessary part of it. That’s just part of the bargain, and that’s the way he approaches it.”
Ironically, it was because of his father’s basketball career that the younger Jones found his way to the sport in the first place. It was during the family’s stay in Colorado while Popeye was playing for the Nuggets that Seth took a shine to hockey.
However, instead of jumping right in with a youth team, the younger Jones took a year of skating lessons. The rest of his game has been built on that foundation.
“Skating is one of the key attributes of the game,” he said. “Usually when you get this big, you usually can’t skate. That’s an upside in my game.”
After his family moved back to Texas in 2005, Seth’s game continued to flourish, and he started to believe he might have a future in hockey. The NTDP provided the necessary tipping point.
“Since I was 12 years old, I wanted to play for the NTDP,” he said. “[After he’d received an offer was] probably when I really decided I could maybe make a career out of it.”
Although Jones had long dreamt of the NTDP, what distinguished it from his other options was the potential it offered him to take his game to a new level.
“Seth is an interesting player in the sense that he does everything very well,” said Cole, who also praised Jones’ maturity, coachability and leadership.
That mastery of the game hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last year, Jones earned a late-season call-up to the U.S. National Under-18 Team as a 16-year-old. Although he was the youngest player on the team, he played a key role in helping Team USA take its third-straight gold medal at the 2011 IIHF Under-18 Championship.
In August, Jones was the youngest player invited to the summer tryout for the 2012 U.S. National Junior Team, a squad featuring the best American players under the age of 20. It’s a team Jones hopes to be a part of come December.
While that’s an immediate goal, along with a successful season at the NTDP and another U18 gold, Jones has an eye toward the future.
“Hopefully I can play in the NHL my first year that I get drafted,” he said. “That’s always been one of my main goals.”
There’s little doubt these Texas-sized dreams are in line with Jones’ Texas-sized potential.
Chris Peters is a freelance writer in North Liberty, Iowa.
Daniel got off to a flying start in his first year in the Tulsa Youth Hockey Association. Now he’s looking forward to improving even more this season. In addition to playing hockey, Daniel is also learning tae kwon do. In spite of all of his after-school activities, this second grader is still earning straight A’s. Over the summer, Daniel wrote and published his own book, “Daddy and Me,” which chronicles his relationship with his father. He is hoping to sell enough copies of the book to buy a pet snake.