ADDIS — When do you know? When does it really dawn on your that your son, a child who has grown so big and so fast over the years you’ve scarcely been able to keep up with his rapidly changing clothes and shoe sizes, could actually be a professional athlete?
“I never thought of it,” Damian Jones’ mother, Dana, said. “I knew he could be good …”
David Jones said he knew when Damian was 2.
That was 19 years ago. A long road.
“A long road,” David Jones said, nodding his head as if the memory of all those years had quickly come flooding back.
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For Damian Jones, the former Scotlandville High and Vanderbilt standout, that road reached its destination Thursday night.
Shortly before 10 p.m., the call came from Golden State assistant general manager Travis Schlenk.
It was decided, Schlenk told Jones’ agent, Austin Brown, who was imbedded on this important night with the rest of Jones’ family. The Warriors, mighty Golden State, which came so painfully close to NBA immortality before falling to Cleveland in the Finals, were taking him with the 30th and final pick of the first round.
The family and friends gathered in the Jones home, who had been enduring hours of earlier draft picks, began to buzz and stir with excitement as the seconds ticked off the clock for San Antonio’s 29th pick, right ahead of Golden State.
Moments later, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made it official at the podium at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The announcement touched off a happy celebration at the Jones house that probably could be heard all the way from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Golden Gate.
“I love it,” said Damian Jones, beaming after spending hours quietly sitting at the back of the living room watching the draft unfold. “It’s a great team and a great group of players.”
For players like Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, the suspense Thursday was nonexistent. The two worst-kept secrets of the draft were that the Philadelphia 76ers were going to make LSU’s Simmons the overall No. 1 pick and the Los Angeles Lakers were going to take Duke forward Ingram No. 2.
For everyone else, there was nervous anticipation and anxiety, starting with the Boston Celtics’ pick at No. 3 when they surprisingly passed on Providence point guard Kris Dunn and instead went with California forward Jaylen Brown.
Few had to make the gut-churning ride that Jones endured.
The experts said the 6-foot-11 center, who passed on his senior season at Vanderbilt to turn pro, could go virtually anywhere in a zone from the last third of the first round to early in the second.
He spent the predraft weeks criss-crossing the NBA map to work out for a variety of NBA teams, including Phoenix, San Antonio, Atlanta, Toronto, Memphis, Boston and Orlando. The Orlando workout June 11 resulted in a torn pectoral muscle while bench-pressing weights that required surgery. Jones, who turns 21 next Thursday, watched his future unfold with his right arm in a sling that he said will come off in plenty of time for the start of his rookie season.
As it turned out, Golden State wasn’t one of the many teams that worked Jones out. He said they did interview him at the NBA combine, where he apparently made enough of an impression for the club to select the towering prospect.
Jones has drawn comparisons to players like former NBA forward Antonio McDyess and current Golden State forward Festus Ezeli — Jones’ new teammate.
Though everyone in the draft save Simmons could have wished and probably believed they should have gone higher, Jones was in no mood to be anything but thankful.
“They have a great fan base,” he said. “I can’t complain.”
Jones was a two-time first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection at Vandy, averaging 13.9 points and 6.9 rebounds as a junior. Before that, he led Scotlandville to Class 5A state championships in 2012 and 2013.
Considering how talented the Warriors are, and how driven they are likely to be after frittering away a 3-1 lead against the Cavaliers in the Finals, Jones could well be adding an NBA championship to his title collection very quickly.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.