Inside The League (15): A TSS Exclusive Interview With Indiana Pacers Assistant Coach Popeye Jones

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Updated: October 15, 2013

It takes a special kind of person to be able to transition from playing to coaching. You need to have patience with each of your players, and you have to realize that everyone has certain limitations. Luckily for the Indiana Pacers, Popeye Jones has come to the team this year with a wealth of basketball knowledge in hand, and he’ll certainly be a major help to an already dangerous team. I talked with Popeye for this week’s edition of Inside The League.

Brian Rzeppa (BR): What stood out about Murray State that made you want to go there?

Popeye Jones (PJ): I think the first thing was that I was not recruited by a ton of D1 schools. There were a lot of D2 schools and junior college schools that were coming after me. On top of that, they had quite a bit of history at the time, and it was really cool to be recruited by a team that had been that successful in the past.

BR: You finished your career as one of the, if not the top, player in Murray State history. What was your best moment from your time with the Racers?

PJ: We never won an NCAA tournament game, but my sophomore year against Michigan state we were a 16 seed and they were a 1 seed, I scored 37 points and we took them to overtime. It was really my national coming out party, and it’s still the closest that a 16 seed has came to beating a number 1 seed.

BR: Were you expecting to get picked by the Rockets?

PJ: I didn’t. I was watching the draft at home and the projections were late first/early second. I was disappointed to not get picked in the first round, so I left. I just went out and walked around, and my mother told me when I got back that I had got drafted 41st overall.

BR: What was it like to play in Italy for a year?

PJ: It was a great experience for me. I haven’t been back, I keep saying I want to, but things just keep coming up.

BR: Did you have any thoughts of staying in Italy for longer, or was it just an immediate decision to go back to the US and play in the NBA?

PJ: What happened was the following year’s draft, Dallas traded for my rights. Talking to my coach and my general manager of my Italian team, they were estatic for me to come back. They said I was going to great European player. But I think every kid who grows up playing basketball, their dream is to play in the NBA.

BR: Your best years of your career were probably at the start of your career in Dallas. What was it that made you perform so well there?

PJ: I think that the young players that I played with helped. With Jason Kidd there and Jimmy Jackson, and Jamaal Mashburn. We were all young, and we really pushed each other.

BR: You were traded to Toronto after 3 years in Dallas. Did you see this trade coming?

PJ: I didn’t see it coming, I think the first time you get traded is the hardest. Dallas was changing ownership at the time. It was tough on me to think that a team didn’t want me anymore. But going to Toronto, I thought it was pretty cool to be affiliated with an organization that Isaiah Thomas was running.

BR: How hard of an adjustment was the move to Toronto?

PJ: It was tough. I had just gotten married. I think it was a lot easier for me than it was for a lot of people, because I had lived in Europe.

BR: It was less than two years after that that you were traded to Boston. How did you feel about all of this moving?

PJ: Well I think that as my kids got older, it got tough. Toronto is where I tore my ACL, and Pitino was trying to build things up in Boston. I think he had seen my tape in Dallas, and he asked to trade for me.

BR: You eventually decided to retire in 2004. What made you come to this decision? Did you ever have second thoughts?

PJ: I had some offers in Europe, but none in the NBA. I think the reason why is because I really got frustrated with all the injuries I had to put up with. I had always been a guy that said when I couldn’t give it my all, I would give it up.

BR: Who would you say was the best player you ever defended?

PJ: I played a lot of bigs. I played centers, I played power forwards. I don’t know if I can say its one guy. It’s all of the Hall of Fame guys. It’s Charles Barkley, it’s Karl Malone, Tim Duncan, Dennis Rodman.

BR: Who was your most talented teammate that you ever played with?

PJ: I think that is probably an easier question to answer, because in Washington I got to play with the greatest player of all-time in Michael Jordan. It was just a joy to watch him play.

BR: If you had to pick a starting 5 of all-time, who would it be?

PJ:

PG: Magic Johnson
SG: Michael Jordan
SF: LeBron James
PF: Tim Duncan
C: Shaq

BR: How did you get the nickname Popeye?

PJ: I got it from the cartoon. When I got home from the hospital, my mother said what are we going to nickname my baby boy? And Popeye was on TV, so they decided on that and it stuck.

BR: Your son was a top draft pick in this year’s NHL Draft, what did that moment mean to you as a father?

PJ: It was really a weird feeling because obviously you’re proud, but to see your son accomplish something that they’ve dreamed of their entire life, to see how much commitment and hard work and sacrifice, it was just great.

BR: Did you ever try to convince him to get involved with basketball?

PJ: I never pressured him, we always played for fun. We always had a hoop, so he grew up around it, but I never told him that he had to play basketball.

BR: What were your responsibilities as assistant coach?

PJ: When I first got there, it was more player development. I was there to work with the bigs, primarily Brook Lopez. Then I extended my role into scouting opposing teams, and also involved in offense. When Coach Johnson got fired, my role expanded even more because we were a man down.

BR: What did you think of the Jason Kidd hiring?

PJ: I played with Jason. As I said, he was the best point guard I ever played with. He made people better, and I think that he’ll make a terrific head coach. It may take a little bit of transition, but he has a great support system there. He’ll be a no-nonsense type of coach, and he’ll be honest with you. They’ll play really up-tempo with a lot of ball movement, because that’s the way he played.

BR: What advice to you have for those who want to play basketball professionally?

PJ: Well I think that like I said, education is always first. That’ll get you into a good college. I think that staying out of trouble, that really comes before the whole basketball thing. Being committed and putting the work and time in that’s necessary is really looked over these days. We used to work on the fundamentals every day, and you need to be sure to do that.

Like I said in the opening paragraph, the Indiana Pacers are incredibly lucky to have a coach of Popeye Jones’ caliber. For as good as he is as a coach, he is an even better man. To stay up to date with everything that he has going on, follow him on Twitter.

This is the fifteenth part of my weekly series, so stay tuned for more interviews from players, coaches, and general managers!

Thanks for reading.

Follow @brianrzeppa