Commentary

Jones' father also his 'best friend'

Updated: July 28, 2010, 7:25 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

Dominique JonesCourtesy Jones FamilyThere's much more to Dominique Jones (right) than his physical play on the court. There's also an emotional side, in which he has an estranged relationship with his mother. "It's always been just me and my dad. You know, that's like my best friend."
It was no surprise who Dominique Jones chose to watch the NBA draft with or where he watched it. For the most significant night of his life, he wouldn't dare be with anyone other than his dad or anywhere other than his grandmother's house in Lake Wales, Fla.

But as the celebration continued after the South Florida guard was selected by the Memphis Grizzlies with the No. 25 pick -- before his rights were purchased by the Dallas Mavericks -- one figure in his life wasn't there, and it really wasn't a surprise at all.

Jones' mother was absent, as she has been for most of his life.

"She calls me from time to time trying to build a relationship, but I feel like it's too late," Jones said. "I feel like you make certain decisions in your life, and now that I'm out here doing something that can better me and my life, I don't have time to just get back and try to make a relationship with somebody."

The NBA is littered with heartbreaking childhood stories. The common thread almost always starts with a single-parent struggle, typically a disappearing father who leaves behind a young mother to raise the children, causing an unbreakable bond to form between them.

Growing up, Jones always lived within miles of his mother in Lake Wales, but an ocean might as well have separated them. Drug issues, stints in jail and a tearful trail of broken promises emotionally bruised him and quite possibly sabotaged her from ever having a relationship with her son. It's come to the point that Jones did not want her to be contacted for this story.

"We always lived close, and that's what disappointed him the most," said Norman Jones, Dominique's father. "When he'd see her, he'd say, 'Mom how are you doing?' And she'd say, 'I've got to go somewhere, but I'll take you here when I come back.' And it would be another three or four weeks before he'd see her.

"And then me and him would get ready to go somewhere and he doesn't want to go. He'd just sit there and cry, 'My mama coming to get me, my mama coming to get me.' "

Dominique Jones excelled at football and baseball, but basketball was his first love. Instead of leaving for more high-profile schools like Georgia Tech or Pittsburgh, he went to play at South Florida, a Big East school that provided him the opportunity to play right away. It also put him just a 60-mile drive on Highway 60 away from home, giving his father the opportunity to watch his son play in Tampa.

"It was always just me and my dad. You know, that's like my best friend," Jones said. "I felt like my dad kept me on a straight line with football, basketball and things. He kept me busy, and I think just a combination of me making good decisions as well."

Drive to succeed at the highest level

The broad-shouldered shooting guard got off to an impressive start to his NBA career at the Las Vegas summer league. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder played with an aggressive, imposing style, and he finished the five games as the Mavericks' leader in scoring and assists -- outperforming fellow guards Rodrigue Beaubois and Jeremy Lin.

[+] EnlargeDominique Jones
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesShooting guard Dominique Jones burst on the scene at the NBA Summer League, impressing the Mavericks with his toughness. Jones led the Mavs in scoring and assists.

Jones averaged 16.6 points per game in the summer league, ranking him 12th overall and second among rookie guards behind No. 1 overall pick John Wall. His 44 free throw attempts also came in just behind Wall's 47.

When the Mavericks faced the Wizards on July 15, Beaubois was struggling with an ankle injury. Jones stepped up and volunteered to go head-to-head with Wall, outscoring the Kentucky star, 28-21, with Wall finishing just 4-of-19 from the field.

"I don't think John Wall's ever had someone play defense on him like that," Mavs assistant coach Darrell Armstrong said.

The Mavericks coaches loved his tenacity and competitiveness at both ends.

"He's tough. He's tough-minded," coach Rick Carlisle said. "He understands how to keep people in front of him and he rebounds well. He brings a physical toughness to the game and for a young guy he really has sort of an innate feel for the physical level of play in the NBA."

'This is what I need to do'

Jones has a tough exterior. His wide, muscular chest is a canvas for inspirational and self-fulfilling tattoos that go up to his neck. He's just as hard on the inside. He's had to be. The inevitable regret and resentment toward his mother's non-involvement and his father working years of hard labor in the Florida sun manifest themselves in Jones' determination to make good decisions, to remain grounded and focused on his goals.

[+] EnlargeDominique Jones
Courtesy Jones FamilyDominique Jones played football, baseball and basketball, always under his father's watchful eye. "He was a joy because he put so much trust in me," Norman Jones said.

"Just me growing up around the people that I grew up with, just the place that I'm from, just basically representing the struggle and just knowing in my head, 'I don't want to live like this,' Jones said. "So I put those two together with my love of basketball, knowing that I'm a competitor and I want to play basketball on the highest level. If I can do something I love to do for a living, and it will take care of me and my family financially, than this is what I need to do."

Jones, 21, has two brothers and a sister, all half-siblings sharing the same mother. All three are over 30 years old, so his relationship with them growing up was somewhat limited. He said there were times when one of his brothers would find him to tell him his mother was in jail again, typically due to drug-related situations.

"It affected me," Jones said, "but, you know, it got to a point where I got over it."

His mother and father were never married. They had decided to end the relationship shortly before she informed him that she was pregnant with Dominique.

"I supported her because she's pregnant with your child. After he was born, we never tried to get a relationship, but I was very active with everything about him," Norman Jones said. "The day came I didn't like the direction she was doing with her children, so I just told her let me keep him and I kept him ever since."

A strong bond between father, son

Jones wasn't yet 1 year old when his father took over full-time parenting. The two lived mostly with Dominique's paternal grandmother so she could care for him while Norman was out working jobs that often took him more than an hour's drive from home. He worked as a self-employed laborer, mostly doing plumbing work at construction sites for hotels or office buildings. Because they lived in a small town, jobs often took him away, but he never stayed overnight.

He also rarely took an eye off of his son. Father's rules: no parties and no late nights on the corners where trouble lurks.

"I just didn't believe 14-year-olds hung out to 1 o'clock, so we just weren't having it," Norman Jones said. "It was hard for him to understand why he couldn't go with his friends, so I talked about sacrifice and maintaining your goals and dreams and how to pursue them."

His strategy to keep his son constantly involved in sports was as much to limit his idle time as it was to free his mind from his troubled mother and her empty promises to take him to the mall. Out to eat. To the park. Anywhere.

"She always made him promises that she didn't follow through with, so that made my job harder," Norman Jones said. "The absence in the mother, I can't even imagine how he really feels about that. But he was a joy because he put so much trust in me. Everything that I told him to do ... he never talked back. Whether he understands the reason or not, he always did what I asked him to do.

"I told him now you're one step closer to conquering your dreams."

Jones now gets to repay his dad by making his life easier. He will earn $1.1 million as an NBA rookie next season, meaning there will be no more sweat-filled days holding a shovel on a job site for his father. In fact, if he doesn't want to, Norman Jones won't have to work another day in his life.

That reality, he said, will take some time to sink in.

"It's amazing," Norman Jones said of his son's sudden riches, "but I just haven't grasped that concept yet. Everything's still the same. I'm still putting $100 in his account. I did that the day before yesterday. He thought that was crazy, but that's just been habit."

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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