March 20, 2012

NLL Rookie Jones Loving His Time in Denver

by Neil Stevens |

Adam Jones, the third overall pick in the NLL entry draft last September out of Canisius, is second among rookies this season in points. He's thriving after tearing his ACL in a Canisius scrimmage about a year ago. 
© Michael Martin/Colorado Mammoth

Players who move to Denver to join the Colorado Mammoth during the National Lacrosse League's January-to-May season wind up experiencing a Rocky Mountain high.

It's a great sports city with NLL fan support other teams can only dream of getting, the arena they play in has all the major-league amenities, and general manager Steve Govett runs a first-class operation for owners who count the NHL's Colorado Avalanche among their successful enterprises.

Rookie attacker Adam Jones is finding all this out, and he's thriving. It helps, of course, to have a league-best 8-2 record.

''We're living a dream out here,'' Jones says to a writer calling to check on his progress. ''The people are so friendly and the weather is unreal compared to back home.''

Back home would be Owen Sound, Ontario, which is a four-hour drive north of the Canada-U.S. border crossing at Buffalo, N.Y.

A lacrosse net made from steel pipes and fishing net has sat in the family backyard for the last 10 years. It's not getting much use right now because Adam is in Denver and his sister Amanda, who played lacrosse at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, is at Brock University in Ontario now. But the net signifies that lacrosse is a family tradition. A grandfather and uncles played. Their father, Brian Jones, was a defenseman on Canada's team that upset the United States to win the world field lacrosse championship in overtime in 1978, and he coached Adam through the minor box lacrosse ranks.

''My cousins all played lacrosse, too,'' says Jones. ''It was something I grew up with.''

Mammoth teammate Mat MacLeod is one of those cousins.

The lacrosse talent displayed by Jones was already evident by his teens and he kept getting better. A senior team in his home city picked him off the local junior side to play for a Canadian indoor championship when he was only 17. When he was 18, Adam helped Canada take silver at the world under-19 field tournament. The coaches were Gary Gait, Brodie Merrill and David Huntley.

''That was unbelievable,'' Jones recalls when asked about being around Gait, who played for the Mammoth before coaching them to the 2006 NLL title. ''He was pretty relaxed. First time I ever saw him shoot, he went top corner with a shot that must have been going 110 miles an hour. It was unreal.''

Jones helped the Orangeville Northmen win Canadian junior indoor championships in 2008 and in 2009 while being coached by current Toronto assistant Matt Sawyer. Jones was tournament MVP in '09. Orangeville teammates in the NLL today include, besides his cousin, Calgary's Jon Harnett and Greg Harnett, Toronto's Damon Edwards, Glen Bryan and Nick Rose, Minnesota captain Andrew Suitor and Philadelphia's Pat Saunders.

Meanwhile, Jones was earning All-America status playing field lacrosse for coach Randy Mearns, the former NLL player, at Canisius College in Buffalo, where Mammoth defenseman Dan Coates was a teammate.

One year ago, Jones was participating in a Canisius practice scrimmage. There were seven seconds left and his side was down by one goal. Jones made a quick cut to go to the net with the ball intent on tieing the score. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and went down writhing in pain.

''My whole leg went numb,'' he recalls.

He had surgery three weeks later. He describes the rehab process as being dreadful.

''It took forever,'' he says. ''It took me eight months to get back into playing shape. It's still not 100 per cent. It's close to 100 per cent but it's not quite as strong as the other leg. I've just got to keep working on it.''

Colorado got him with the third overall pick in the NLL entry draft last September and he concentrated on getting himself ready to turn pro. He's been sensational -- so good that he was picked for the league all-star game. He has scored 19 goals and assisted on 30 for 49 points while playing with a brace on his left leg. The only rookie with more points is No. 1 draft pick Kevin Crowley of the Philadelphia Wings (29 goals, 23 assists for 52 points).

Jones loves working the left side of the attack formation with John Grant Jr.

''Playing with John Grant Jr. is like playing hockey with Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby. I'm learning from the best."

-- Colorado Mammoth rookie Adam Jones

''It's important to find a role and my role has been pretty easy to find,'' he says. ''I knew from the moment I was drafted that I'd be playing with a guy who'd have the ball a lot and one of my main jobs is to set picks for him.

''Playing with John Grant Jr. is like playing hockey with Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby. A lot of times when he gets the ball he'll be double teamed, which leaves me open. When Junior throws you a pass he isn't looking at you so you have to stay alert. I catch myself watching him sometimes when he has the ball. Playing alongside him is a great way to start off my career. I'm learning from the best. And all the team's veterans have taken us younger guys under their wings.''

Ed Comeau coaches the offense.

''Adam has been very good in many aspects for us,'' Comeau replies when asked to assess the rookie's play. ''He has worked hard on loose balls and creating additional possessions for us by his ability to press.

''He has adjusted well to the level of play in the NLL. Getting to play with one of the best to ever play has allowed Jonesy to get a glimpse of what it takes to be successful. He has worked well with Junior. It takes guys some time to figure out how to play with Junior but both Jones and Jamie Lincoln have done a great job for us.''

Jones, Coates, Derek Hopcroft, Creighton Reid, Rory Smith and Dan Lewis are Canadian players with the Mammoth who are living in the same Denver complex during the NLL season. NBA and Call To Duty video competitions rage on. Grant and Ilija Gajic also moved down from Canada to live in the city.

Head coach Bob Hamley seems to be pulling all the right strings.

''We've got a good mix of new guys and veterans,'' says Jones. ''We go into games fired up. We're having a lot of fun and when you're having fun you're successful.''

Jones will be a strong candidate for NLL rookie of the year. He is articulate, smart and has a winner's mentality. He's a big part of the Mammoth revival, and he's lovin' it in Denver.

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