PORTLAND — Seth Jones never gave basketball a shot.
But the son of former NBA player Ronald “Popeye” Jones is giving the Portland Winterhawks a chance.
Considered one of the top young defensemen in the world, Jones and the Winterhawks announced on Tuesday that he has signed with the Western Hockey League team.
The captain of the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 team, last month Jones helped lead the USA to the gold medal at the U-18 World Championship in the Czech Republic.
“Seth is a world-class player,” Winterhawks head coach and general manager Mike Johnston said at a press conference held two hours before Game 4 of the Western Hockey League finals at the Rose Garden.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds, Jones has a late 1994 birth date. His hockey age will be 18 when he joins the Winterhawks next season. He is eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft, and is projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick.
Portland had a limited window to sign Jones after making a trade with Everett for the right to negotiate with the defenseman. Jones and his mother, Amy, visited Portland two weekends ago.
“I knew from the start of the visit that I wanted to be a Portland Winterhawk,” Jones said.
He also said he discovered hockey while living in Denver, fell in love with the speed of the NHL game, and never gave basketball a thought.
The Winterhawks traded 1994-born defensemen Ben Betker and Reece Willcox and 1996-born forwards Tyler Sandhu and Mitch Skapski as part of the deal with Everett.
Garry Davidson, Everett’s general manager, had a hand in bringing all four into Portland’s system when he was the Winterhawks’ director of player personnel.
“It’s great for the Portland Winterhawks. I think it’s also great for the Western Hockey League,” Johnston said. “We feel our league is the best league in the world for players in this age group. We feel our league attracts and draws (elite) players because they want to play against the best.”
WHL commissioner Ron Robison said signing Jones was a credit to the job Johnston and the Winterhawks have done, and a big deal for the league.
“From the Western Hockey League standpoint, it’s a tremendous statement that we can offer a player of this caliber the opportunity to get ready for the next step.”