PITTSBURGH -- Word has gotten around the Steelers' locker room that Jarvis Jones can do more than just play football. It seems he has game on the basketball court as well.
“I've heard that,” said veteran defensive end Brett Keisel, who is also one of the better hoopsters on the Steelers.
Jones stopped playing basketball after his junior year of high school to concentrate on football. It seems like a wise choice, especially since the rookie outside linebacker is poised to play a significant role on a defense that has quietly gotten younger while also retaining its veteran core.
Jones does have a unique hoops claim to fame as he said he once scored more than 20 points against Los Angeles Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin in an AAU game in Orlando, Fla.
Griffin is about seven months older than Jones, who turns 24 in October, and the latter said the two played against one another when Jones was a freshman in high school.
When asked if Griffin remembers their matchup, Jones smiled.
“I don't know,” he said. “He was dunking though. He always could jump.”
Jones could, too. He could also score as the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder modeled his game after favorite player Carmelo Anthony.
“I could have played Division I basketball,” Jones said. “Just a guy that played hard and doing what I do now.”
Indeed the athletic ability that served Jones well on the basketball court has also translated to the football field.
“You just see a lot of natural ability even outside of playing football,” Keisel said of Jones. “Footwork and things like that are hard to teach. Athletic ability is hard to teach, and what sets him apart is the things that he makes look easy would be extremely difficult for a different player. That's what makes him special.”
Jones has the early look of a player who could be special, and he will play significant snaps from the outset even though Jason Worilds will open the season as the starting right outside linebacker.
Watching Jones now it seems silly that the 4.9 he ran in the 40-yard dash at Georgia's pro day last spring led to his dropping to No. 17 in the first round of the NFL draft. Jarvis Jones is many things on the football field. Slow is not one of them.
The possibilities seem endless for Jones on the football field, and his basketball dreams have receded far into the past.
But he will always have the memory of matching up against Griffin, whose signature is ferocious dunks that have become a staple of "SportsCenter."
Jones was tasked with guarding Griffin in the post in their long ago AAU meeting. Did Griffin throw down a dunk on him?
“He almost did,” Jones recalled with a grin. “I jumped out of the way.”