Michael Brandy, Deseret News
OKLAHOMA CITY — While heaping praise on tonight's Utah Jazz opponent, Jerry Sloan compared Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant to a guy he was enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame with last year.
It wasn't John Stockton, either.
In Sloan's opinion, Durant is about as admirable as The Admiral.
Talking about the Thunder small forward reminded the Jazz coach of a conversation he once had with ex-Utah center Mark Eaton after he faced San Antonio's now-legendary big man for the first time.
"Mark, what do you think of David Robinson?" Sloan asked.
"Boy, he's really quick," Eaton replied.
"Anything else?" Sloan added.
"Yeah," Eaton responded, "he's smarter."
Same attributes — quick and smart — apply to OKC's 6-foot-9 phenom, who's averaging 30 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 steals.
"That's a bad combination — you see that in him," Sloan said in a complimentary way. "And he's a terrific guy."
That's just the beginning of what impresses Sloan about Durant.
The Jazz coach was left with a lasting, positive impression of how Durant played with a sprained ankle during his freshman season at Texas.
"He didn't take off. He's out there and he's trying to play on it," Sloan recalled. "(Eighteen) years old, and he's busting his butt."
He admired how he saw Durant participating with the Thunder even while trying to resolve his contract situation when the Jazz were at the Orlando summer league in July, too.
"Some people wouldn't agree with that, probably," Sloan said. "But if you're a coach and you see that you say, 'Uh, oh.' "
An opposing coach, at least.
OKC coach Scott Brooks has gotta love it
"It's kind of amazing how he got better. ... He's worked very hard," Sloan continued, lauding Durant's rebounding improvement. "He's a unique player. When you talk about trying to guard him, he's shooting the ball in your face out there on the 3-point line like he's shooting a layup."
Sloan said small forward Andrei Kirilenko will begin the game guarding Durant, but he won't be the only one.
"We'll have two or three guys try to guard him because he's just terrific," Sloan said. "He's one of those special players — and their team is good, too."
GROWLING-AT-GORDON GATE: Much ado was made by outsiders about how Deron Williams hucked the ball with extra zip on it to Gordon Hayward and then chewed the rookie out for not running a play correctly in Utah's 110-94 loss to Phoenix.
At practice Saturday, Williams said he'd spoken with Hayward about Thursday's on-court exchange. Williams also chuckled when asked if the team was laughing about that situation or had moved past it.
"What situation? I've yelled at people before on the court. There's no situation," Williams said, cracking a grin. "I already talked to him. I already apologized, said I shouldn't have yelled at him. It's going to happen. It's going to probably happen again."
That's just the nature of his competitive and occasionally feisty spirit.
"I get upset on the court. A lot. Because I want to win," the All-Star said. "I told him I was in the wrong, so we're all right. We're good."
TEXAS HEAT: Williams, a Texas Rangers' fan, offered a funny suggestion while his Nolan Ryan-esque fastball to Hayward was briefly the interview topic.
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