CHICAGO - Amid a hectic week as a Nets assistant coach, helping the team through a tough playoff series, Popeye Jones did have a few moments to be a proud father. His son, Seth, a defenseman, was officially named the No. 1 North American prospect for the National Hockey League draft by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau.
That put the younger Jones, 18, in position to be the first African-American to be hockey's top overall draft pick.
"You think about all the hard work that he's done, how he started playing hockey at 5. You think about all the early mornings, all the dedication, leaving home at 16 and going to Ann Arbor for the U.S. national development program. Now he's living in Portland in the Western Hockey League," Popeye said before the Nets' Game 4 at United Center Saturday. "You just think of how quickly he had to grow up, how he had to mature fast."
All three of Jones' sons took up hockey when he was playing for the Nuggets and the family lived in the Denver suburbs.
"All of the kids played street hockey. When it got cold, all the kids said they were going inside to play ice hockey," the dad said. "Just being a sports guy, growing up playing basketball, football and baseball, it didn't matter what sport they played. Sports are meant to be fun. Kids learn camaraderie and teamwork and stuff like that."
It helped that the Nuggets and Avalanche shared a weight room, and the elder Jones received advice from Avalanche captain Joe Sakic. Seth quickly became a standout. This season, he led the United States to the World Junior Championship in Russia -- a tournament that internationally has about the same prestige among hockey people as the Final Four does in basketball.
Seth's Portland Winterhawks team also is in the playoffs, having made the WHL finals. He is considered a complete player -- good skater, physical defender, hard shooter, solid passer. Popeye thinks the 6-4, 205-pound 18-year-old could have been a point guard.
"He's a good basketball player. He's actually built like a basketball player. But I think if you look at hockey -- I'm a big fan -- it has a lot of the same things as basketball; pick setting, spacing, give and go, the teamwork. Obviously, I was happy for my kids to play," said the Nets assistant who admits to having welled up when he saw Seth play last September at the Rose Garden Arena, where the hockey player's father played as a visitor against the Trail Blazers.
By all accounts, Seth is a solid citizen with a warm personality. "That's the important thing, the way we raised him," Popeye said, crediting his ex-wife Amy. "All three of our boys are great guys, they respect others, treat people the way you want to be treated. He graduated high school in three years. I'm proud of the kid just as much as the hockey player."
Chances are, he wouldn't be the only one in his family to be that way.