Millsap seeking out ball — and success

Published: Friday, Nov. 17 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

Rookie forward Paul Millsap has impressed the Utah Jazz in his short time with the team.

Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News

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SEATTLE — He did not just play, but starred, at Louisiana Tech — and still got little respect in the NBA Draft. He has a nose for the ball, and an ever-evolving game. He says if he weren't in the league, he would be working in law enforcement.

Sound familiar?

Paul Millsap, make no mistake, is no Karl Malone.

Check back for that in another 1,426 games, 14,571 rebounds and 36,339 points.

Or so.

But the second of the Jazz's two 2006 second-round draft picks is making something of a name for himself eight games into his fledgling NBA career, and so far it's even better than advertised.

When they selected the 6-foot-8, 255-pounder No. 47 overall out of Malone's old school in last June's draft, the chatter from Jazz scouts was that hopefully he can turn into a slightly better version of similarly undersized Malik Rose — a serviceable 11-year veteran and current New York Knick who at his peak with San Antonio in 2002-03 averaged 6.4 rebounds and 10.4 points per game.

Now, some suggest that may be selling Millsap a bit short.

"I think he's a little more talented than that," said Jazz assistant coach Tyrone Corbin, who played 16 years.

"If he continues to show what he can do, and understands the game, and learns how to adjust his game, and he keeps that knack for getting to the ball," Corbin added, "he'll do a lot better."

For that, 21-year-old Millsap has three brothers — one who is trying to forge a pro career of his own, one who is embarking on a college career and another who conveniently has landed in the lap of Brighton High School — and a rather hard-driving uncle to thank.

Though a Louisiana native, Millsap spent his formative years in Denver. Football was his game. In fact, he was just starting to make a name in junior-high circles there — as a quarterback, of all things — when single-mom Bettye Millsap decided to leave lousy surroundings and move the boys back home to the comfort of kin.

There, Millsap's uncle — Bettye's brother, DeAngelo Simmons — awaited with a message and a mission.

The message: "I told him, 'Look, around here, we play basketball,' " said Simmons, who now doubles as Millsap's agent. The mission, according to Simmons: "She (Bettye) said, 'I want my kids to go college and get an education. Can you teach them to play basketball?' "

Simmons, a GM plant employee at the time who played basketball at Tyler Junior College in Texas and briefly at Southern University, eagerly accepted the assignment.

"My goal," he said, "was to make sure the four boys were taken care of."

For hours on end, starting with John and Paul and eventually younger brothers Elijah and Abraham too — the Biblical names no mere coincidence — he drilled the game into each of Bettye's sons.

"Every day we worked out, and after that we played 1-on-1," Paul Millsap said. "I had little brothers that would come in and play too — they wanted to beat the older brothers, so it was always a competition for us. Every day was ... trying to beat each other."

Still is, when they get together.

"It's a battle — my uncle just sits back and watches us go at it," Paul added. "He made us who we are, really — he taught us to always go all-out every time you're on the floor, so that's what we try to do."

Based on Paul's play early on, it's done with success.

"They compete hard at each other ... They don't give each other nothing," Simmons said. "It was a joy watching them go at it. As they got skills, and got longer and taller, it was just a joy watching them become players — because they were special players. All of them had different skills, different abilities."

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