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.
"If you don't want to know," he said, "you better not ask."
Added Millsap: "But that's what you need."
Despite time commitments and not seeing his family, Hornacek enjoyed being around basketball on a daily basis the last couple of months. He even got used to his new responsibilities of breaking down film, preparing opponents' scouting reports, attending coaches' meetings and all the travel. And he enjoys analyzing the game.
Hornacek wants to return to the Jazz as Corbin's assistant next season. His sons, Tyler and Ryan, have moved out of the house, and his youngest child, daughter Abigale, is a junior in high school.
"It's tough," he said, recalling how he only saw his family on two Sundays during mid-February and the end of the season. "But they understand."
Hornacek was brought in and interviewed by the head-coach-seeking Chicago Bulls a few years ago, but the situation wasn't right at that point for either side. Though Hornacek won't be able to follow Abigale's volleyball career as closely, he feels this is the right time to pursue his natural path to coaching (following in his father's footsteps).
"I always thought I would coach at some point," he said. "It was just a matter of when the family gets out of the house."
Hornacek admitted he didn't love the circumstances that opened up this opportunity for him, with his old coaches leaving, but he tried to make the best of it in a post-Sloan Jazz world.
"It's just great to be involved again. Now I feel like I can spend the time," he said. "When you've got a family and three kids, you're going, 'OK, how can I really feel like I can pull my full efforts into it if I'm trying to run out and see the kids' games or something like that.'
"When I do it, I want to be able to put that full effort in there. It's a little easier now that I only have one at home."
Until the NBA's labor situation is resolved, however, Hornacek won't know his future employment status. His current contract with the Jazz ends on June 30, but he hopes that gets extended eventually.
"I like this group of guys. Ty's a great guy, and Scottie," Hornacek said. "With all of the stuff that's happened, (you want) to be part of a turnaround."
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