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Miami Heat centre Alonzo Mourning (R) goes to the hoop against Toronto Raptors' forward Popeye Jones during first quarter NBA action in Toronto January 23. Jones’ son Ronald has decided to pursue a professional hockey career instead of following in his father’s footsteps. (file) (Andrew Wallace/REUTERS)
Miami Heat centre Alonzo Mourning (R) goes to the hoop against Toronto Raptors' forward Popeye Jones during first quarter NBA action in Toronto January 23. Jones’ son Ronald has decided to pursue a professional hockey career instead of following in his father’s footsteps. (file) (Andrew Wallace/REUTERS)

Paul Waldie

Big-league lessons learned, passed on Add to ...

He is now an assistant coach with the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and, for more than a decade, Ronald (Popeye) Jones forged a respectable professional basketball career as a player.

Jones will be the first to admit his middle son, Seth, is on a different career trajectory: rated to go either first or second overall in the 2013 NHL entry draft.

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Seth Jones’s main competition will come from Nathan MacKinnon, of Cole Harbour, N.S. (home of Sidney Crosby). And even though the two are just teenagers, playing hockey at the opposite ends of the continent, their paths have crossed enough over the past couple of years that they are friends as well as rivals.

“I was blessed to be in that talk [to go first overall],” said Seth, an 18-year-old defenceman with the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL, “but I’m not too worried about that and I know he’s not too worried about this whole horse-race thing either.”

That may be the most valuable lesson that Jones can pass on to his son: Where a player is drafted counts far less than what happens after he gets drafted and the development process starts in earnest.

“One of the things that Seth talked about, he wants to get out of my shadow,” said Jones, who played in 535 games across 11 NBA seasons (1996-98 with the Toronto Raptors). “Yes, I did play in the NBA, but I was more a journeyman than a superstar. I was drafted in the second round [41st overall in 1992 by the Houston Rockets] and kind of had to carve out a career. He’s trying to do more than that and do it under his own name and I think that’s awesome.

“I’m just a father and I support him. I want to advise him as much as I can about being a professional athlete or working towards becoming a professional athlete – the pitfalls, the advantages and just everything that comes with it.”

Jones had a chance to watch Seth play in Portland’s season opener before NBA training camps opened, and now monitors games via the Internet. Ultimately, Seth opted to play in the WHL as opposed to U.S. college hockey because it looked to be the quickest path to the NHL.

“Seth always had a goal he wants to play in the NHL at a young age, 19 years old and not go to college,” Jones said. “The long bus rides, I think all that is great for him at his age [because] it teaches you something. It teaches you to be humble. It teaches you to work hard when you’re having that kind of gruelling [schedule] at such a young age.”

Did Jones ever imagine his son would go this far in hockey?

“No, I really didn’t,” he said. “I always knew that he was committed and he loved to play and that was always my biggest thing with all my kids: If you’re having fun doing something, keep doing it. If it’s not fun, after the season, move on and find another sport to do.

“As a parent, you kind of want to keep your son out of the spotlight at a young age. When he turned 14, and he was in the Sports Illustrated article, I had mixed emotions because I knew the spotlight would be on him at a such a young age.

“He’s handled it all well. I just told him, ‘Hey you’ve got to understand that people are always going to be watching you, whatever you do.’ They are going to walk into the rink and say, ‘Hey Seth Jones is playing on rink 3.’ So he’s been used to it for a while.”

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