Utah Jazz: Jeff Hornacek enjoys coaching despite missing family
Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — While casually shooting with teammates after one of the final shootaround sessions of the 2010-11 season, Al Jefferson put up a 3-pointer that hit, well, anything but net.
"Hey, Jeff!" a smiling Jefferson barked in Utah Jazz assistant coach Jeff Hornacek's direction. "What you told me to do ain't working!"
The Jazz's shot doctor turned full-time assistant quickly fired back a humorous one-liner that hit the target like one of his deadly 3-pointers:
"I can't shoot it for you guys," Hornacek joked back.
So, what was it that the former sharpshooter told Big Al to do anyway?
"Try looking at the rim," he said, grinning.
Joking aside, Jefferson and other Jazz personnel thoroughly enjoyed having Hornacek become more involved with the team after the resignations of Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson left the organization with only two coaches in February.
"He's certainly been good for us while he's been here," Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin said.
Being away from his family was the biggest challenge of the transition Hornacek made going from part-time shooting coach to full-time assistant alongside Scott Layden.
Hornacek went from only being with the Jazz a few days a week on average with limited travel (aside from trips from his home in Phoenix to Salt Lake City) to being with the team every day and only seeing his family on a couple of occasions between February and April.
"It's the toughest part," Hornacek said of being away from his family.
But the Jazz benefited from the level of expertise and insight one of the premier shooters of his generation — and a guy who knows the franchise's system like the back of his old hot hand — brought to the court.
"It's really valuable because a lot of times you're not going to have very many people to talk to who played in the same exact system, that played the same position and had a successful career in the NBA," Jazz rookie Gordon Hayward said. "There's not very many guys like that around. Just the knowledge that he has is really valuable."
Though he worked hard to hone his outside shot, Hayward credited Hornacek's assistance and advice for helping him shoot a respectable 48.5 percent overall and a sizzling, team-high 47.3 percent from 3-point range in his first NBA season.
Hayward also said Hornacek's tips and pointers proved invaluable. The 47-year-old coach helped him be more confident and showed him the importance of using spacing and timing in the NBA game.
Corbin also lauded Hornacek for helping Jeremy Evans improve his shot, something that happened over time as the Western Kentucky product and Hayward worked with the coach on a consistent basis.
Because of his NBA résumé and his shooting work with players over the past few years, Hornacek has the respect of Jazz players. Corbin said that communication they have is key to improvement. The head coach also likes how the former All-Star guard shows players proper form and how to place their hands on the ball to shoot effectively, and how he helps them increase their confidence through repetition.
"These guys are all good guys. They try to take in what you say," Hornacek said. "That's what's nice about this group of guys, whether they do it right all the time or not might be another story, but at least they listen."
But only if they want to hear the truth.
"He's been there. He knows the ins and outs about these things," Jazz forward Paul Millsap said. "Jeff's going to tell you like it is."
Hearing him say that made Big Al chuckle.
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