BOSTON (Reuters) - Given the genes and sporting pedigree it is not unusual that Seth Jones, son of former NBA journeyman Ronald ‘Popeye’ Jones, would one day follow in his father’s athletic footsteps.
The sporting world, after all, has an orchard of family trees bearing familiar fruit.
In the NFL there is Archie Manning and his quarterbacking sons Peyton and Eli while Bobby Bonds and his home run king son Barry terrorized Major League Baseball pitchers.
The Hockey Hall of Fame could dedicate an entire wing to father and sons with the likes of Bobby Hull and his boy Brett and Gordie Howe and Mark enshrined side-by-side.
But Popeye and Seth Jones are a father/son sporting story with a twist.
When growing up around ballparks and arenas kids often tend to gravitate towards what dad does best.
But it was the ice rink, not the basketball court, that held a fascination for Seth Jones, who developed a better slap shot than a slam dunk and enters the NHL draft later this month as the consensus number one pick.
“It’s been a really cool experience but it has been a hectic season media wise and hockey wise,” Jones told reporters ahead of Monday’s Game Three of the Stanley Cup final in Boston.
“I‘m just trying to enjoy it and looking forward to the (June) 30th, it’s going to be an awesome experience I get to share with my family.”
The Colorado Avalanche, owners of the first pick, are widely expected to use the selection on the 18-year-old defenseman.
Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy has not committed to Jones but the 6-foot-4, 206-pound blueliner would appear to be the perfect fit for the Mile High City.
It was in Denver where Popeye Jones spent one of his 11 NBA seasons (1999-2000) with the Nuggets and started his son down the unlikely path to hockey stardom.
Jones learned to skate in Colorado, prompting his father to approach Avalanche captain Joe Sakic, now the club’s executive vice-president of hockey operations, for advice about what to do with two a young son fascinated by hockey.
The next season, seven-year-old Seth Jones sat rinkside as the Avalanche hoisted the Stanley Cup.
That night Seth Jones was hooked.
”I saw that game I knew I wanted to be a hockey player and I knew that one day I wanted to lift the Stanley Cup,“ said Jones. ”The intensity, the speed of the game and you don’t get more passion than Game Seven of a Stanley Cup final.
“You just see the look on guys faces, the determination to win one game and take it all.”
Jones has also worn a determined look this season.
He was a leader on the U.S. team that won gold at the World Junior Ice Hockey championships and helped the Portland Winterhawks to the final of the Memorial Cup, that goes to the top junior club in the Canadian Hockey League.
With size, slick skating ability, a big shot and NHL caliber hockey smarts, Jones is seen by scouts as the complete package possessing all the skills to become a franchise player.
But with great talent comes great expectations. A team pinning a good part of its future on a calculated roll of dice.
“Wherever you get drafted that team is going to have expectations and you want to make those expectations as much as you can,” said Jones. “My goal is to play next year and I‘m going to do whatever I can to make that happen.”
Unlike other first round picks Jones carries with him an added responsibility if he is taken number one.
Jones could be the first black player ever taken number one breaking down another small barrier in a white dominated sport. He would also become the seventh American taken with the number one pick and just the second defenseman chosen since 1997.
Jones reflected on the responsibility on Monday, sitting in the same site where Willie O‘Ree broke the NHL color barrier with the Boston Bruins in 1958 against the Montreal Canadiens.
“He was the first African-American to play hockey, I don’t know much but obviously it was tough time for him back then but I‘m looking forward to meeting him and hearing about his experiences,” said Jones, whose character has received nearly as much praise as his skills. “Hopefully I can be a role model.”
It is clear by the tone of questions that much will be expected of Jones. He is asked to peer deep into an uncertain future and provide details about what it will feel like to be the face of U.S. hockey as well as role model.
For a young man who has not yet been drafted or played a single minute in the NHL these are impossible questions to answer yet Jones has a clear idea of how he wants life to unfold.
”It definitely is surreal, I haven’t really accomplished anything yet,“ said Jones. ”But hopefully I can go in and live up to the expectations and hype that has been given to me.
”As an 18-year-old you want to know what the future holds for you but you just can’t see it.
“You have to wait.”