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South Florida Bulls' Dominique Jones has unbuckling bond with his father

USF guard Dominique Jones has been raised by his father, Norman, while his mother has been in and out of jail multiple times during Dominique’s life. Jones, from Lake Wales, says one of the reasons he came to USF was to remain near his dad: “He’s my best friend.”

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

USF guard Dominique Jones has been raised by his father, Norman, while his mother has been in and out of jail multiple times during Dominique’s life. Jones, from Lake Wales, says one of the reasons he came to USF was to remain near his dad: “He’s my best friend.”

A half-hour after a disappointing loss, after the Sun Dome has emptied, they sit alone together in a section of seats, father and son.

Dominique Jones wears a white T-shirt and backpack, and Norman Jones wears a striped polo with a towel draped over his shoulder and a game program rolled up in his hands. They share the same frustration, the same hopes, and a bond stronger than most fathers and their sons.

"We're always there for each other, like Linus and his blanket," Norman said. "It's been a joyous thing. He's given me some of the greatest times in my life."

Jones is the best player on a USF basketball team still working to establish a presence in the Big East.

Many Bulls athletes come from single-parent homes, but Jones has barely had his mother in his life. Since his son was 6 months old, Norman has tried to make up for that.

"That was one of the reasons I came here," said Dominique, who grew up an hour east of campus in Lake Wales, "so he could come to every one of my games. He's my best friend."

Now, at age 20, Jones is working to build a relationship with his mother after a long absence.

"He's opened up his mind and opened up his heart," coach Stan Heath said. "Every kid needs a mom in his life."

•••

The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard talks with his father, who works as a plumber, at least five times a day, not counting text messages. Ever since Little League, since his quarterback days, Jones has known his father would be at his games.

"It tells you a lot about Norman Jones and the sacrifices he's made for his son," Heath said. "I love my kids, and we all want good relationships with our children. Those two have a very strong bond, even closer than most, because it's a unique situation."

Norman, 46, is a restless fan, quiet but involved. He'll start in one seat, move to the upper level, then back down again. Before or after a game, the two can talk as friends, but there is always a respect from Jones, who does few things in basketball or in life without his father's blessing.

"He says he can see the look in my eyes when I'm turning into a dad," said Norman, who played basketball at Lake Wales like his son, later spending six years in the military. "Anything pertaining to his schoolwork, we're not friends when we talk."

Jones grew up without the traditional family structure others might take for granted, but he also recognizes the bond he has with his father is something not all his friends have.

"I think it's harder not having your dad in your life," he said. "It's hard for your mama to teach you how to be a man."

•••

Jones is averaging 18.2 points, up a point from last season, but he's also now the focus of defenses, and handling that burden well. Heath said he sees more maturity, especially in the classroom and in practice, with leadership qualities emerging in his second year on campus.

The best sign of Jones' newfound maturity may be in his relationship with his mother, Joann Williams.

Jones saw his mother only sporadically growing up, spending the night perhaps once a month, here and there. Her first arrest was in 1993, and more followed, on charges ranging from worthless checks to battery to burglary to possession of controlled substances. She spent seven months in jail in 2002 for one battery charge, and a 2003 felony arrest for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon put her in prison for five years.

Jones did not see or speak to his mother while she was in the Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy. She was released Nov. 5, and three weeks later, she was at the Sun Dome to see her son play.

"I was kind of nervous. I played bad that first game," Jones said. "We have a good relationship, still developing more and more. Ever since, I've been adding onto the relationship from where we left off at."

Jones doesn't have many memories of his mother from his childhood, but his father told him to start their relationship with a clean slate, and he has embraced the idea of embracing her.

"That's my mom, and she'll always be my mom. You've only got one," said Jones, who now talks with his mother about once a week. "I love her to death, but thinking of her the same way I think of my dad, that's impossible, because there's so much time missed."

Jones said he believes he was intended to have personal obstacles to overcome to prepare him for the rest of his life, so he hopes to learn from the adversity he has faced.

"I think God sets up different things to help the outcome of certain things," he said. "My main goal is to get to the NBA and be a success there. Me having family problems, it's just things to motivate me toward that."

•••

Jones is on pace to be the first player to lead USF in scoring, rebounding and assists in the same season.

But he measures his success in his ability to elevate the Bulls in a deep and difficult conference. They went 3-15 last season in the Big East and are 3-10 now, falling short of his hopes of a breakout year.

"The same disappointment I had last year is settling in," he said. "There's a lot of games we gave up that we were supposed to win. It's a result of people not being focused, not playing their hearts out, being selfish instead of selfless. We've got (the) talent to play with most of the teams in the Big East."

Norman said his son isn't one to walk away from a challenge, so he doesn't expect him to leave USF until he has accomplished his goals. Dominique said he can take the Bulls to another level next season.

"If you look at next year, I feel like everything is set up for us to rise," he said. "Everybody's leaving in the Big East, and most of the teams will be young and inexperienced. With me and Chris Howard leading the team, we'll have an experienced team that will play hard every game and get some wins. We can be in the top of the Big East."

ToDay

A shot at No. 1

USF at Connecticut, 2 p.m., XL Center, Hartford TV/radio: Bright House Sports Network; 1250-AM

South Florida Bulls' Dominique Jones has unbuckling bond with his father 02/20/09 [Last modified: Friday, February 20, 2009 10:29pm]

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