Utah Jazz: Koufos draws rave reviews after first-ever Jazz start

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 12 2008 12:04 a.m. MST

PHILADELPHIA — He shot 3-of-8 from the field, had a ball bounce off him early on and got blocked a time or two.

But 19-year-old Jazz rookie Kosta Koufos drew rave reviews after making his first NBA start in the Jazz's 93-80 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday.

"He was fine," coach Jerry Sloan said of the 7-footer from Ohio State. "He's young, and enthusiastic. He got his hands on a lot of basketballs. He tipped balls out there to people for rebounds he couldn't get."

"For being thrown in the starting lineup, I thought he did well," Jazz point Deron Williams added. "He came out and hit some shots. He went up a little weak a couple times, but in that second half he was stronger."

Koufos opened because usual starter Mehmet Okur is tending to his ailing father back home in Turkey, reserve Jarron Collins (who dressed but didn't play) still is bothered by a bruised elbow, and would-be replacement starter Kyrylo Fesenko had to go to Toronto for visa-related purposes.

Veteran forward Matt Harpring (ankle rehab) also was inactive, for a seventh straight game.

Sloan could have started either of two reserves, Paul Millsap or Andrei Kirilenko, but he tapped Koufos instead.

"He's a tremendously hard worker, and he deserved a chance to play," Sloan said of Koufos, who at 19 years and 261 days becomes the third-youngest player to start a game for the Jazz behind younger 19-year-olds C.J. Miles and DeShawn Stevenson.

"He's worked so hard, I don't think it bothered him too much tonight running up and down the floor," Sloan added. "I thought he might lose his energy because he was so excited, but he held it pretty good."

Koufos was as excitable off the floor as he was on, pumping his fist or jumping up and down whenever he wasn't playing in the second half.

"The big thing with him is he just needs to slow down," Williams said. "He's gets so sped up, and he's anxious to play. But I think he's gonna be good for us as he learns more and more about the game."

Koufos scored his first NBA points on an alley-oop dunk delivered by Ronnie Brewer.

"It was a great pass," said Koufos, adding, "I'm just blessed and fortunate to be on this team."

OKUR UPDATE: The Jazz still don't know when they'll see the return of Okur, who — after flying to Istanbul on Monday — had this update regarding the situation on his personal Web site:

"Mehmet Okur's father Abdullah Okur has been sick for a long time now. His condition got worse about two weeks ago as he was taken into intensive care. ... A few days ago he showed strong enough signs of recovering and the doctors moved him to a normal hospital room. (But then) his condition all of a sudden deteriorated and he was immediately taken back into intensive care once again."

WILLIAMS UPDATE: The Jazz weren't sure how long Williams would be able to play Tuesday while making his season debut following an ankle sprain, so Sloan essentially left it up to Williams.

He'll continue when Utah continues a five-game trip tonight at Washington.

"I don't have a problem with that," Sloan said.

Williams — who logged 31 minutes — plans to ice the ankle today and play tonight.

"It should be fine," he said.

WELCOME BACK: Jazz backup shooting guard and ex-Sixer Kyle Korver struggled in his return to Philadelphia, shooting just 1-of-7.

"I just wanted to hit the first couple, probably too much, and got out of rhythm a little bit," he said.

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