Utah Jazz notebook: ESA turned into International House of Basketball
SALT LAKE CITY — For bedtime's sake, it's a good thing they only sang national anthems for the United States and Canada before Wednesday's game between the Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors.
Tipoff might've started an hour later had singers performed patriotic songs for every country represented by players from the two teams.
Between the Jazz and Raptors, the two teams have athletes from 11 different countries.
Add Toronto's coach, Canadian native Jay Triano, and all of the American players on each squad, and it was almost like a United Nations hoops ambassadors' symposium had been called into session.
Forget the doctor. Was there a translator in the house for this affair of accents?
"It's harder to understand," Utah's Russian small forward Andrei Kirilenko said.
He was joking, but it's true.
Toronto is the NBA's most diverse team, with six international players from Australia, Brazil, Italy, Lithuania, Nigeria and Spain.
Utah has five global guys, including St. Petersburg standout Kirilenko, Turkey's Mehmet Okur, Ukraine's Kyrylo Fesenko (not present), the Netherlands' Francisco Elson and Raja Bell, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In all, the NBA boasts a record-high immigration rate. The league of 435 players had 84 international athletes (19.3 percent) from 38 countries and territories as of opening night.
That's up from 79 international players at the end of the 2009-10 season.
"I think more and more international players are going to be on the floor in the next couple of years because basketball is spread out global and more and more people come to the league," Kirilenko said. "So, it's not surprising."
The foreign invasion has more than doubled in the last 12 years. In 1998-99 — the season before Bell entered the league — the NBA only had 38 international players.
Jazz center Al Jefferson expects the exchange rate to continue to increase.
"There's great talent all over this world," Jefferson said. "And every year, they get better and better, so I'm not surprised, because the best players are going to play, and they're everywhere."
Jefferson laughed when he was asked by Jazz radio voice David Locke if it's harder to get to the NBA from his hometown or from Italy (Toronto center Andrea Bargnani's home).
"I would think Prentiss, Miss.," Jefferson said. "You never know. We might have some more talent hidden down there in Prentiss."
Of course, that's what they're probably saying from Rome to Rio, too.
TCU WHO?: Speaking of international sporting events, Kirilenko was asked about the big game up on the hill Saturday. You've heard about the TCU-Utah showdown a million times or so, but, no offense, the Russian does not follow that kind of football.
But, smart guy, he's picking the Utes to win.
"Of course, Utah," he said. "To be honest, I don't even know what's TCU."
But it isn't because he's another BCS snob.
Taking the Utes over the Horned Frogs is not the only reason Kirilenko is a wise prognosticator. He won't take sides when it comes to the U. and BYU, saying with a chuckle, "It's too political."
UNDERMANNED UTAH: Already missing one 6-foot-11 center, the Jazz played without another 13 feet and 10 inches of big men against the Raptors.
Center Kyrylo Fesenko and forward Jeremy Evans were unable to play. That left the Jazz with only 10 available players because Mehmet Okur (left Achilles tendon) remains sidelined with his rehab.
Fesenko showed up for shootaround Wednesday, but the 7-foot-1 backup big did not participate, due to gastric distress.
Evans continues to nurse his sprained right wrist, which the 6-foot-9 rookie injured Sunday night at Oklahoma City.
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