How many blonds does it take to change a coach's mind?
In the case of Jerry Sloan, one's certainly not enough even if he's 7-foot-1 and oozing with potential.
Indeed, it's going to take much more than a mere dye job for Kyrylo Fesenko to make a killer impression during his second summer in Utah.
Such was the sense Monday morning at the Jazz's practice facility, where Fesenko showed up for the opening session of Rocky Mountain Revue camp with his naturally brownish hair bleached so blond some wondered if perhaps the big Ukrainian center had joined a boy band.
"I was like, 'I guess you're going for the Backstreet Boys look,"' teammate Morris Almond said.
"If that's hot in Ukraine, that's hot in Ukraine," he added. "But, you know, over here ..."
Not so much, is what Almond wanted to say and what Sloan did not need to.
"I'm not worried about his hair," grumbled Sloan, whose two-decade coaching career with the Jazz has lasted nearly as long as still 21-year-old Fesenko has been alive. "I'm worried about what he does on the floor."
The 2007 second-round draft choice logged just nine NBA games last season and spent much of the year with the Jazz's NBA Development League-affiliate Utah Flash.
Maturity concerns plagued the happy-go-lucky Fesenko's rookie season, which is why even he must know this offseason is so critical.
"This is real important summer for me probably most-important summer," Fesenko said after the Jazz's first practice for the six-day, eight-team Revue, which opens Friday at Salt Lake Community College. "And I have to play right now, because my contract only goes to the end of the season, and I have to make the team.
"So," he added, "I will try to play 100 percent, I will try to do everything what coaches expect me to do, and just help the Utah Jazz win."
Whether Fesenko can, Sloan suggested, is largely up to him.
"His attention span," the Jazz coach said, "is better than it was a year ago at this time. He's got a long way to go to make himself a better player. He has skills, but sometimes the outside things will take you right out of this game. If those things are more important than basketball, that's where you get in trouble.
"A lot of people have skills," Sloan added. "A lot of them are sitting on the sidewalk, wondering, 'What happened 20 years ago, when I had a chance?' You know, he's got to figure out what he wants to do: play basketball or be a clown."
Based on one mere summer practice, there's cause for hope.
"He has worked a little better so far," Sloan said. "But that's not the whole picture. It's every day.
"I want to see him work hard, stay focused on what we're doing and not lose concentration if something's funnier over here in this corner than it is where we are. So, it's up to him. All of our coaches want to see him succeed, and they've worked with him, they've spent time with him. But we can't drag him out here."
Nor did anyone force Fesenko to take a dip in the peroxide pool that idle June day back home in Ukraine.
"I was just passing by the barber shop, and I was thinking, like, 'Why not?"' Fesenko said. "I just wanted to try it. I never had before blond hair. And I think it's fun."
At least worth a summer-league laugh.
Not that many dared Monday to ask Fesenko how much help he needed changing a light bulb.
"Probably because I can beat all these teammates," he joked.
All kidding aside, Fesenko has to know that with his Jazz future at stake this month is much more about work than play.
That message was sent loud-and-clear on June 26, when the Jazz took 7-1 Ohio State center Kosta Koufos with their first pick in the 2008 NBA Draft.
Koufos seems destined to present a challenge in what should emerge as a battle of young, developing bigs.
"I don't think anybody's guaranteed him he's gonna be here," Sloan said of Fesenko, who according to the coach will have competition for a roster spot. "I know I haven't. You know, he's got to work."
Fesenko suspected as much late last month while working out in Florida, where new 'do in place he also watched the draft unfold on TV.
"I think that if Koufos is here it's gonna (stimulate) me to work harder to play against him and to learn something new," said Fesenko, who after a few days of individual workouts with Koufos already has taken a liking to him.
"It's hard for me to find the difference between teammates or competition, because even when we're with great teammates your friends you always have to compete, you always have to prove something, you always have to show that you are better," he said. "But I like him. I like him a lot."
The two even talk of playing off each other on the floor.
"He's a very big guy. He's very smart, offensively and defensively. He knows the system well. He's got a year's experience," Koufos said of Fesenko. "But I feel I can put the ball on the floor and dribble, and play more of a 4."
"He's more like a Memo (Okur) type of big men, so I think we can easily play with him on the court," Fesenko said. "I can play 5, and he can 4."
If, that is, Fesenko can convince a certain coach he really is serious about the task at hand.37 comments on this story
Colorful locks and all."The first thing I asked (Fesenko): 'Have you seen Coach Sloan since you've been back?"' Almond said. "He was like, 'No.' ... And I was like, 'Make sure I'm not around (when you do).'"