Datone Jones the basketball player was exactly like Datone Jones the football player. Old Compton running mate DeMar DeRozan, now with the Toronto Raptors, remembers it all well. "Reckless," DeRozan said. "He was just all over the place, running around, jumping. Reckless." Jones was a 185-pound point guard then. Today, he's a 285-pound defensive end. With pads on at the Green Bay Packers' rookie orientation this weekend, Jones may look like any other defensive lineman. He's not. His athleticism, his overall game is rooted in basketball. And in Green Bay, he's not alone. The Packers' 2013 draft class is full of players who have a strong basketball background. Athleticism abounds. Jones' first love was basketball. Tackle J.C. Tretter was one of the top players in his region on the hardwood. Wide receiver Charles Johnson, a four-year varsity basketball player, described himself as LeBron Lite. Cornerback Micah Hyde claims he could've played on Iowa's basketball team. Outside linebacker Nate Palmer? He hooped with Derrick Rose in high school. Inside the Packers locker room, urban legends tend to grow. Bring up basketball and several players claim to be the best on the team. This year's class has legitimate ties to the sport. The athleticism the game demands - one-step explosion, quick feet, leaping ability, supreme balance - is useful in football. After all, not many NFL defensive ends led the fast break on the playgrounds of Compton, Calif. Said Jones, "That was my first sport. I've been playing since I was 5 years old." One of the first things defensive coordinator Dom Capers mentioned about Jones after Green Bay made the UCLA defensive end the 26th-overall pick was that the Packers liked his basketball background. On Compton's varsity team, Jones said he played as a freshman, a sophomore and a few games as a junior before the football scholarship offers began pouring in. Through his travel team in the summer, Jones played against a handful of the best players in the NBA, including Jrue Holiday, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson and James Harden. DeRozan, who averaged 18.2 points per game for the Raptors last season, was on Jones' high school team. And yes, DeRozan remembers Jones running the point in pickup games. The "reckless" Jones tried to play everywhere. "I think he was just confused with what he does," DeRozan said, laughing. "He wanted to be the point guard to the center to whatever. But it was fun. He always tried to have fun with it. . . . He's definitely athletic. He can move. He's one of those guys who can go out there and play any sport." As Jones grew into a force at defensive end on the high school football team, he was a gnat in basketball. He began blending the two sports together, often using rips and swim moves to chase down rebounds on the basketball court.
Packers rookies bring basketball backgrounds to the field
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | May 11