Genetics was supposed to put them on a mythical fast track from high school, through college and to the NBA. Like father, like son.
Only that’s not the way it has been for Steve Jones and Jamelle McMillan, the sons of former NBA players.
Yes, they were high school standouts now on basketball scholarships at Arizona State, who’d love to play at the next level.
But while McMillan and Jones credit dear ol’ dad for helping them get here, their biggest point of pride is that they did it Sinatra-style:
‘I always had a choice’
A young Jamelle McMillan was pretty good at football and baseball, but he got tired of the practice regimens, so he chose basketball.
He was a youth hoops cliché: Late nights in the backyard shooting, dribbling and playing with the neighborhood kids.
But that last name did anything but blend.
“At a young age kids say ‘Cool.’ ” Jamelle said of his pedigree. “High school came and that’s when you hear the ‘You should be a McDonald’s All-American.’
“I think it was more a life lesson outside of basketball about not pleasing everyone.”
Nate McMillan was a 12-year NBA pro in Seattle and then became the Sonics coach. He was either on the road or had home games conflict with his son’s playing schedule.
Nate watched his son during summer AAU tournaments and made it to state tournament games — where Jamelle won three titles.
Nate sat in the stands and kept quiet. Jamelle’s coaches were in charge, not his father.
“I wanted to make sure that type of pressure wasn’t around him, that he didn’t have to be a college or pro player,” said Nate, now the Portland Trail Blazers coach. “If I felt a coach was teaching him wrong I gave suggestions, but I really wanted him to enjoy the game. He didn’t have to play, but if so, there was going to be a commitment to it and not go through the motions.”
Jamelle came to a crossroads as a high school junior, when Nate accepted the Portland job, while wife Michelle and the two kids, stayed in Seattle.
Jamelle carried the burden as the go-to-guy for O’Dea High School, which had state title expectations. It was the most important year for college offers, and yet, he had to be the man of the house as well.
Had Jamelle moved, he would have played his final two years of high school at Lake Oswego, Ore., with UCLA freshman phenom Kevin Love.
Summers were OK, but October through May was painful. At best, Nate drove up from Portland once per month. Daily phone calls helped, but not enough.
“I grew up without a father and felt like if I did leave in that situation it would force more responsibility on him,” Nate said. “It would get tougher, and he’d learn what it’s like to not have me around.
“It hardened him a little bit and it was really a tough call. Once I made that decision, he and I would never live together again. It was very difficult.”
Said Jamelle: “It was probably the best thing for me, to be honest. At the time, (I was) definitely not feeling that way.”
The Sun Devils played Illinois in the Maui Invitational to begin this season. Jeff Jordan (son of Michael Jordan) is a freshman with the Illini who played against McMillan at AAU tournaments and various Nike camps through high school.
The pair talked about their experiences briefly in Hawaii, but McMillan already knew how rough it was being a pro’s next generation.
“He’s a normal kid, but it was relentless,” Jamelle said of Jeff Jordan. “They were asking him why he was wearing Nike instead of Jordan (apparel). They were bothering him about it right down to his clothes. I can’t fathom living through that.”
With the NBA All-Star break, the elder McMillan plans to attend today’s ASU game vs. California, his first time at one of Jamelle’s college games.
Father and son are excited. It’s one time Jamelle won’t need to send the game tape to dad for critiquing.
“I’ll probably hear it here,” Jamelle said matter-of-factly. “If I happen to play at the next level, I’ll hear it there.”
‘i totally wanted to do it’
The younger Steve Jones once played the outfield, but hated it because no one could hit the ball that far at age 9.
“My career lasted one year and the granola bars and Capri Sun were the highlights,” he said.
He also played soccer and tennis, but, much like the McMillan household, the Joneses were about basketball.
His father, Steve “Snapper” Jones, starred in college, played in the NBA, worked as an NBA analyst on NBC for years and now does color commentary for the Seattle SuperSonics.
He used to bring home NBA videos from work for his son to watch. The younger Jones had already took a liking to the game, and his father worked to find that line between enjoyment and excess.
It’s why a majority of their daily phone conversations still aren’t about basketball.
“I never, ever told him what life to live,” the elder Jones said. “I always told him he never had to be me, or live up to anyone else’s preconceived notions about sports or life.
“I always see coaches’ sons and daughters who play and get coached by their dad, and end up hating it, but they do it just because their parents like it or want them to do it.”
By the time the Sun Devils junior reached high school, he heard the comparisons from everyone other than his family. But he was a catalyst on state championship teams in Oregon, and quickly learned to tune out everything other than winning.
“The expectation is you must be really good or if you’re not performing as high as people think it’s, ‘What happened to him?’ ” the younger Jones said. “You’re either where everyone thinks you’re supposed to be, or you’re not good enough.”
Both Jamelle McMillan and Steve Jones are immersed in basketball year-round. It’s part of the deal through high school, AAU and now major college. Yet they credited their fathers — both of whom also spend their lives immersed in hoops year-round — for pounding perspective.
“It’s easy to fall into the trap of peer pressure and people thinking you have to be really good,” the younger Jones said. “Then it’s easy to doubt yourself and stress yourself living up to this or feeling you’re not good enough. Once you get past it, it’s fine, but it’s not easy to get there.”
California at Arizona State
When: 4p.m. today
Where: ells Fargo Arena
TV/Radio: FNAZ/KTAR (620 AM)
Records: Cl 14-9, 5-7 Pac-10; ASU 16-7, 6-5
Cal – This was supposed to be a promising year for the Golden Bears, but it’s been an inconsistent one from the start. The Bears lost 84-74 at Arizona on Thursday, and though they have the second-best offense in the Pac-10, it’s a continuous struggle defensively. Ryan Anderson remains the Pac-10’s leading scorer (21.7 ppg) and third-leading rebounder (10.1 rpg), but the Devils did a good job of negating him in the final 20 minutes of their overtime win at Cal early last month.
Arizona State – The school will honor the 50th anniversary of its 1957-58 team at halftime. This was ASU’s first NCAA tournament team which won the Border Conference with an 8-2 mark. Royce Youree hit two free throws with three seconds left on the final day of the regular season to sweep the season series with Arizona and earn a trip to the tournament in coach Ned Wulk’s first season. Youree, Garth Wilson and Willard Nobley will be recognized.