Utah Jazz: Brass impressed with rookie's effort

Published: Saturday, Oct. 4 2008 12:00 a.m. MDT

Kosta Koufos is impressing the Jazz coaches with his attitude and work ethic.

August Miller, Deseret News

BOISE — He has a penchant for saying "Yes, sir," even after being told the "sir" part is appreciated but really not necessary.

He speaks only when spoken to and doesn't question authority.

He's preppy, polite and the picture-perfect poster of just what a 7-foot-1 Eagle Scout should look like.

No wonder Kosta Koufos is one rookie Jazz coach Jerry Sloan — shhhh, don't spread the news — actually may like.

The teen's attitude, especially for a first-year NBA player, is — according to Sloan — "as good as you can get."

So is his work ethic, which has included midnight workouts in the summertime at the Jazz's practice facility and sessions with new mentor Mehmet Okur.

"He's a pleasant guy to be around," Sloan said, "because he works hard and doesn't say anything and just tries to do his job.

"He doesn't shy away from anything. ... He doesn't get at the back of the line and stay there. He's willing to step up and get after it."

But can he play?

Kevin O'Connor, for one, seems to think so.

"The toughest thing to appreciate is that he's a 19-year-old," said O'Connor, who tapped the Ohio State freshman with the No. 23 overall selection in last June's NBA Draft. "He's in great shape, and he's stronger than most guys are at that age.

"The thing that sticks out the most is how hard he works. He's gonna hit a wall somewhere along the line, I'm sure, and go through some stuff. But so far he has worked extremely hard. And if you're that size, and you work hard, and you've got some skills, you usually succeed.

"That's what we like to see," the Jazz general manager added. "His work ethic is at a higher level, and higher intensity, than most players we've seen come in that have had just high school or very limited college experience."

No wonder big Turk Okur has willingly taken the young Greek-American under his wing.

The two enjoyed one-on-one workouts during the month prior to Jazz training camp at Boise State University, which came to a close Friday morning.

Okur also shared some personal words following a team scrimmage Thursday.

The advice, according to Koufos: "He just told me to relax. I'm a rookie and have to relax and play in the system."

Koufos may eventually fight veteran backup Jarron Collins for minutes behind Okur.

But Okur, an NBA All-Star in 2007, feels no threat. Rather, he's tantalized by what he sees.

"I hope he's gonna be much better than me in this league because he's got a bright future ahead," Okur said.

"He tries to get better every day ... and if he keeps doing that," Okur added, "I think he's going to be a great player in this league."

After and even before the Jazz drafted him, Koufos' style was compared to that of Okur, a strong-shooting big man who prefers to play on the perimeter.

But Koufos, who Sloan said may be used at either power forward or center depending on matchups, has toiled to develop a stronger inside game.

"I feel comfortable playing in the post," he said, "and that's my strength now."

Whether or not he can crack the Jazz's regular rotation remains to be seen. He is, after all, still a rookie — Sloan's evident fondness for him notwithstanding.

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