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Brad Rock: Jazz can't afford to stay kids for long

Published: Friday, Dec. 9 2011 10:06 p.m. MST

Utah Jazz player Enes Kanter answers questions during media day at the Zions Bank basketball center in Salt Lake City Friday, Dec. 9, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — An ancient Persian proverb says: "Children are the bridge to heaven."

Who knew Persepolis had an NBA team?

The Jazz opened training camp on Friday, and doggone if they aren't banking their eternal hopes on a bunch of kids. At least two of them allegedly rode their bicycles to practice, while another had his mommy drop him off.

They say kids are the hope of the world. That's true, especially if you live in the Jazz's world.

If these kids don't come through, neither will the Jazz.

General manager Kevin O'Connor said this week he doesn't want to hear anyone refer to them as a young team. OK, let's just say it's "maturity challenged." Players such as Al Jefferson, Mehmet Okur, Devin Harris, Paul Millsap and Raja Bell are solid veterans. But if the kiddie corps doesn't contribute significantly, the Jazz are cooked.

Two preseason games and a compacted 66-game regular season don't allow much time for maturation.

"I think they'll have to develop pretty quick. There's a lot of young talent and a lot of guys are going to have to play a lot of minutes," Bell said. "So as they go, we'll kind of go."

Leading the children's parade is Derrick Favors. He's 6-foot-10, 246, all of 20 years old. You just know he still carries a Transformers Fan Club membership card in his wallet.

The No. 3 pick in the 2010 draft, Favors is more athletic and two inches taller than Karl Malone was when he came out of the Louisiana backwoods. He has soft hands, enviable agility and enough physical gifts to become an All-Star.

Last year he showed tantalizing potential, averaging seven points, five rebounds and a block in 20 minutes.

Now if he'll just stop wearing footie pajamas to bed.

Then there's Enes Kanter, 19, the Jazz rookie from Turkey. Due to eligibility concerns, he didn't play last season at Kentucky. At 6-11, 262, he could be the center the Jazz have long wanted. He too was a No. 3 pick.

How will he do against veteran centers?

It's possible he'll shout "I'm gonna tell on you, Dwighty Howard!" the first time he gets nailed with an elbow.

If Kanter doesn't succeed, he can always blame it on the mumps, measles or the croup.

Third in line for the wading pool is second-year player Gordon Hayward, 21, who still thinks "Norelco" is an appliance warehouse. At times he has been called a poor man's Larry Bird.

Actually, he probably remembers more about Big Bird.

Rookie Alec Burks hopes to be the Jazz's permanent solution at shooting guard. He's also 20. At 6-foot-6, 195, he certainly has a nice frame for that position. In college he was a slasher and finisher.

But sources say he asked if the Jazz's new uniforms can be matched with his Garanimals.

Lastly, there's Jeremy Evans. He's the geezer at 24 — same age as six-year veteran C.J. Miles. But Evans only has one year in the NBA. He is known as a great leaper.

No one knows whether it comes from natural ability or jumping on his bed.

None of this was lost on the Jazz as they opened camp Friday afternoon. They know there won't be a lot of break-in time for their youngsters. Without major youth contribution, the Jazz could finish last, which they might have last year if Deron Williams hadn't been around for half a season.

Youth hasn't always been a Jazz worry. Once upon a time they were one of the most experienced teams in the league. Kids had to wait their turn. Not anymore. Utah is now a place for on-the-job trainees.

How quickly do they need to develop?

"Twenty-four hours," joked assistant coach Jeff Hornacek.

"We want them to get there as fast as we can," he continued. "We have several that played at the end of last year and we expect them to step it up. All of us played — everyone on the staff has played — so we expect them (to produce) right off the bat. No excuses."

What a world.

Remember when kids got to be kids?

email: rock@desnews.com Twitter: therockmonster Facebook: rockmonsterunplugged

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