The Basketball Jones: Hayden got next
MANGILAO (Guam) - New Zealand’s Hayden Jones has been waiting for his turn.
He watched as his sister, Maia, play as one of the leaders for New Zealand at both the FIBA U16 Women’s Asian Championship and U17 Women’s Basketball Cup this year. The 15-year-old was also not yet born during the peak of his father’s career, but there’s no doubt that he’s watched an endless amount of highlights from the legendary Phill Jones playing for the Tall Blacks.
After all of that waiting and watching, it’s finally his turn to put on that black singlet.
"Both honored and very excited," said Hayden of how he feels ahead of playing at the FIBA U15 Oceania Championship 2022 in Guam. "Watching my sister and my dad play for New Zealand made me really want to join them in representing New Zealand."
"It means a lot and all the hard work that I have been putting in makes it all feel worth it being able to play for my country."
Don’t just take Hayden’s words for granted, though.
"Myself and his mother, Kat, are very proud of Hayden and what he has done so far with his basketball. He works very hard and it's great to see him rewarded with this opportunity," said his proud father, Phill Jones.
Hayden wearing the black singlet and playing for New Zealand on an international stage was probably inevitable. With Phill being a national legend, Kat being a storied professional player, and older sister Maia starting to make a name for herself as mentioned above, this seemed like a path that Hayden was bound to take.
It’s easy to fall in love with the sport that your loved ones are so passionate about.
"Growing up watching my mum and dad play basketball made me want to give it a go and ever since, I fell in love with the game," said Hayden.
"It’s hard to pin point the first thing [I taught him] as he has had a ball in his hands from a very young age as I was still playing professionally when he was very young. But it was noticeable that his ball skills were strong and this has helped him develop the rest of his game," added Phill.
The advantages of being in a basketball household is quite straightforward. Hayden has access to direct support and constructive criticism from those who actually understand what he is going through, especially considering the experience both Phill and Kat have.
And then, of course, there’s the competitive spirit that push each other to be better as well.
"Being in a basketball family is probably the biggest reason why I am where I am at the moment," said Hayden. "Growing up playing very competitive games against Maia helped me a lot to play how I do today."
"Lucky all the kids have each other's backs on and off the court," added Phill. "However, at times the competitiveness kicks in and we have to play the mediators."
"Early on, Maia was too big and too strong for Hayden but now the shoe is on the other foot and Hayden is almost 6'4" and too athletic for Maia and he is getting his own back. Although Maia still gives him a good run, the one-on-one sessions are now less and less."
"There is very tight competition when it comes to the shooting drills however," said Phill, who is still as competitive as ever, even against his kids.
"But I have to say there is still only one shooter unbeaten in the family!"
Big shoes to Phill
Phill Jones set high standards as a basketball player in the family. He was always among the Tall Blacks’ top scorer in his heyday. This was a span where he was a part of arguably the best Tall Blacks teams in history which played in several Olympics and won bronze at World Cup 2002.
"I was pretty young when my dad played so I don’t remember a lot but I know he is an amazing shooter," said Hayden of his father. "Still even today!"
"I have always looked up to my dad and my mum as well as Stephen Curry because my Dad and Curry are both really great shooters. I hope to become elite shooters like them someday."
Because of that elite shooting, Hayden has always taken a specific word of advise from his dad to heart.
"A bad shot is better than a turnover."
As Hayden’s debut awaits in Guam, there are obviously some expectations especially since he is paying for the regular powerhouse of the competition. The expectations Hayden has set on himself and the team might seem high, but that only displays his level of confidence.
"I think that we have a real shot of winning and feel confident that our team can go a long way," he said. "I think that experiencing playing internationally against teams and players I have never played against before will be a challenge but I will learn a lot from them."
New Zealand will be going up against Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Northern Mariana Islands, Micronesia, and, of course, long-time rivals Australia. The Crocs won the previous edition of the competition in 2018 while also the first three tournaments when it was still the U16 Oceania Championship.
However, the games have been close, so it’s not out of the picture to imagine New Zealand winning this one in Guam.
"Beating Australia would be amazing just because of the rivalry that we have with Australia, and because usually they come up on top would be a really cool achievement," said Hayden.
For Phill, his expectations less focused on the opponents ahead for his son but rather what Hayden does - both on and off the court.
"We always discuss playing super hard and being competitive in all trainings and games," said the elder Jones. "I personally push him to be a scorer and look to shoot when he can but he still shows a real good balance of scoring and passing."
"With regards to life, we tell him to stay humble treat people with respect and always be thankful towards those people who help him on his journey."
The FIBA U15 Oceanian Championships serve as qualifiers for the FIBA U16 Asian Championships 2023 with the top two teams going through.
The FIBA U15 Oceania Championships will be hosted in Guam from November 21 to November 26. Follow the event here!