Damon Jones' phone buzzed Wednesday afternoon shortly after he was drafted by the Phillies. It was his grandfather — former 76ers center Darrall Imhoff — welcoming another professional into the family.
"He said now we have two pros in the family," said Jones, a lefthanded pitcher from Washington State selected by the Phils in the 18th round as the three-day Major League Baseball draft concluded. "That was a good call to get."
Jones had a 4.72 ERA in 682/3 innings this season at Washington State. He drew the Phillies' interest with his ability to pair his fastball with three breaking pitches: a curveball, a slider, and a change-up. Jones expects to sign quickly with the Phillies. He'll likely find out next week where his professional career will begin. And his journey will start 44 years after his grandfather played his final game.
"It makes me wish I could've seen him," Jones said. "It makes me wish I could've watched him play."
Imhoff, whom the Knicks drafted in 1960 with the No. 3 pick, was traded to the Sixers in 1968 as part of the deal that sent Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers. Imhoff won a gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics and was an all-star with L.A. in 1967. He matched up against Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and guarded Chamberlain in Wilt's 100-point game.
Imhoff played two seasons with the Sixers, lived in Berwyn, and roomed on the road with Billy Cunningham.
"It was a great team that I became a part of," Imhoff, 78, said from Oregon. "Chet Walker, and Johnny Green, and Billy Cunningham, and Luke Jackson, and Matt Guokas. It was just a great group. We had a great time. Billy C was a super guy and great player. Philly was a great experience for me and my family. I really miss it. I loved the area. Great fans, too. They were very knowledgeable."
Jones and his grandfather took similar routes as both began their college careers as walk-ons. Jones walked on to the junior-college team at the College of Southern Idaho in his hometown of Twin Falls. He was noticed in a Colorado summer league by a Washington State scout who was assigned to watch a different player. The Cougars gave Jones a scholarship.
"He gave me his mind-set and expertise on how to approach walking on and take it one step at a time and give it your 100 percent every day," Jones said of his grandfather. "He was relentless. He had to work just as hard as I did. It's kind of the same story, just different sport."
Imhoff grew up in Southern California and walked on at Cal, where he became a two-time all-American and had his No. 40 retired. Imhoff led the Golden Bears to the 1959 national title, clipping Jerry West and West Virginia by a point in the final. Imhoff and West were roommates with the Lakers and West is the godfather to Jones' mother, Nancy.
"My aunt was a professor at Cal and she called the basketball coach, Pete Newell, and said she has a nephew coming to Berkeley and he needs a place to stay," Imhoff said. "Pete said `Well, I'm not the housing director. I'm the basketball coach.' She said, `He's 6-foot-81/2.' And he said, `What's his name?' That's how it started."
Jones relives his grandfather's career through YouTube videos, listening to his old stories, and even playing with Imhoff's character in the NBA 2K video game series. Imhoff cracked that he makes more money off the video game royalties than he did during his career. It's a way for Jones to learn why they called his grandfather "The Ax." And now The Ax's grandson is ready to carve his own career.
"When I was playing in L.A., Elgin Baylor said, `You're tougher on us in practice than the other guys are during the games. You're tougher than an ax,'" Imhoff said. "Sometimes they'd say, `You're a hatchet man.' And I'd say, `No, no. A hatchet man will hit you upside the head and try to make something happen. The Ax just takes one shot.' That was it. I'd get called for ticky-tack fouls and figure I might as well make it a good one."