Brad Rock: Utah Jazz sniffing around for a hard-nosed draft pick
It's unsurprising the Jazz would want to land someone with an ornery disposition in tonight's NBA Draft. Picking a guy who isn't afraid to take names and crack noggins is usually good policy.
Besides, when you're drafting 20th, the pretty guys aren't likely to be around.
If you can't get a sports car, get a work truck.
"Public perception-wise, and within the organization, we know we need to be a little tougher physically and mentally," said player personnel V.P. Walt Perrin.
Thus, the Jazz ran a string of tough guys through workouts this month, hoping to line up someone who might help their notoriously spongy defense. One rampaged at opponents as blood poured from his broken nose during a game two years ago, then scrapped his protective mask shortly after being fitted. Two others appeared for Jazz workouts despite injured knees. A fourth arrived after impaling himself on a measuring stick a few weeks earlier. Another was a martial arts veteran before puberty.
You want tough? These guys make Vin Diesel look squeamish.
The most prominent Jazz interviewee was North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, who spent one off-season pushing an SUV around a parking lot to build strength. Same guy who virtually ignored his nose after it was broken near the end of that infamous 2007 game against Duke.
"He's a beast of a man," said teammate Marcus Ginyard at the time. "Seriously, nothing can stop him."
Heavy-metal music to the Jazz's ears.
Hansbrough, though, is just the most visible of the, well, hard-nosed guys. The list also included Pitt's Sam Young, who speared his biceps with a metal pole attachment used for measuring vertical jump. He rode to the hospital with his arm still impaled. A few days later, he was at a pre-draft combine.
Wake Forest's James Johnson grew up with parents who were kickboxing black belts. Johnson began the sport at age 4, then moved on to mixed martial arts.
Suffice it to say you don't want to antagonize him.
Gonzaga's Jeremy Pargo and Wake Forest's Jeff Teague showed up in Utah, despite injuring their knees a day prior. On Monday, the Jazz previewed Pitt's DeJuan Blair, a player with two knee surgeries behind him, yet dogged enough to be named co-Big East Player of the Year.
Naturally, the Jazz think they know toughness when they see it. Deron Williams, Paul Millsap and Matt Harpring are known for their bullish play. Karl Malone missed eight games — including a couple of suspensions — in 18 years with the Jazz. Mark Eaton habitually punished anyone who dared venture in the paint. Jeff Hornacek wasn't as physical, but played relentlessly on knees so bad they quivered in the breeze. Which proves a point: Tough guys don't always need to be big.
John Stockton was a little guy who pounded people like a football blocking sled.
"You can find players who are slight of body, maybe point guards, who are more mentally tough than they look physically tough," Perrin said.
That the Jazz would be openly looking for toughness makes sense. This year they were as soft inside as a bonbon. Opponents like the Lakers — and far lesser — drove the lane with impudence.
"Most people think of toughness in terms of physical," Perrin said. "But it's also mental, and it can help us with road wins and back-to-backs. So I think we're consciously looking at always to find tough players, but probably more so than in the past."
That can't be bad news for those who worked out for the Jazz, this month.
"I think another thing would be the interviews, and we talk to them so we can ask them questions, find out what they feel, how they think, how they may answer certain questions," Perrin said. "Whether they're going to be hard workers or be guys who may complain."
And while it's possible the Jazz could end up drafting pretty boys with the 20th and 50th picks, that seems uncharacteristic.
More likely, they'll choose someone who leads with his nose.
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