Looking back at his rookie year, Deron Williams credits former Utah Jazz point guard Milt Palacio for being a mentor of sorts.
Consider that the most important assist of Palacio's short stay in Utah.
"He helped me a lot," Williams recalled.
Four years later, Williams is the established NBA veteran and he's passing it forward. So far in his rookie year, Eric Maynor — who figures to see his first taste of NBA action during the Jazz's preseason-opener tonight against Denver — credits the team's current starting point guard for mentoring him.
"He's a great guy, man," the Virginia Commonwealth University product said of Williams. "You've got some guys in this league that would think about their position and wouldn't try to help guys that come in, but he's been the total opposite."
Williams teaches him the tricks, dishes out gold-medal advice from one of the league's brightest point guard stars, and often wows him with his play.
Williams does it willingly, too.
Considering his previous stellar play and the fact he's in the first year of a contract potentially worth about $70 million, Williams is pretty certain he'll be keeping his starter's job for the near future. That, however, does not stop him from jokingly asking reporters if he should be scared of losing his spot to the rookie.
Kidding aside, Williams doesn't mind helping out the new kid on the bench... He admits it will make his job easier if his backup plays well. Don't take that to mean he's giving the rookie the edge in the battle to be the first point guard off the bench. Ronnie Price has what Williams calls "the upper hand" right now.
But he wants to help Maynor reach his exciting pro potential.
"I always like to see guys succeed, and he's a part of this team," Williams said. "Hopefully, he can learn a lot from me and be a valuable backup. ... You can see that Eric can be a special player."
Maynor gave glimpses of that during his stellar career at VCU, where he averaged 22.4 points and 6.2 assists as a senior en route to being named Colonial Athletic Association player of the year for a second consecutive season.
The Jazz snatched him up 20th overall and made him the first VCU player to ever get drafted in the first round because they liked his playmaking skill set. The franchise that places a premium on pure point guards just couldn't resist taking a shot on a guy they compliment for helping others take good shots.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan — who so happened to cut Eric's father, George, when he coached the Chicago Bulls in 1980 — says it's way too early to determine whether Maynor can challenge Price to be Williams' main backup. First, Sloan and the Jazz brass want to see how the slender 22-year-old reacts to opponents, how he fares in the exhibition season and "how he holds up."
But Sloan liked how Maynor adjusted during summer-league play, and he appreciates the way the rookie is grasping an understanding of the offense so far in preseason practices.
"We've liked him. We like what he's been able to do," Sloan said. "He's a point guard, a guy that can look like he can get people the basketball, that's what point guards need to be able to do."
The 6-foot-3 Maynor, who weighs a feathery 175 pounds, took the initiative this summer to begin seriously working on building his body into an NBA body. He spent time with John Lucas – the widely respected former NBA player and head coach and now current assistant coach of the Los Angeles Clippers — at his training facility in Houston after playing for the Jazz's summer squad in Orlando.
Lucas told Maynor he wanted to work with him when they met while the coach put on a clinic at VCU. Maynor didn't hesitate to glean from Lucas' wisdom. They worked on a variety of things – from strength and conditioning, basketball skills and "just little stuff," Maynor said.
"He's been there," Maynor said. "He knows what it takes, so I was down there working with him."
All the summer experiences helped him — and he continues to be helped by the likes of Williams and Price.
"I don't think there's no guy on this team that'd try to lead you in the wrong direction," he said. "Everybody (wants) to help each other."
Maynor is also helping himself win over his new teammates.
"He's very poised for a rookie. He doesn't turn the ball over much. He's always under control. He doesn't really get rattled," Williams said. "That's something you don't see a lot from rookies. Usually they come in here and they're going a mile a minute."
Carlos Boozer said he's "really impressed" with Maynor and hopeful shooting guard Wes Matthews of Marquette, who doesn't have a guaranteed contract.
"They pay attention, they pick up stuff fast," Boozer said. "It's good to have rookies who understand basketball."
Adjusting to the rigors of the NBA has been an understandable challenge so far for Maynor, though one he believes he is conquering along the way. Not having days off and having contact every day in practice can take a toll on the body.
An NBA player's mind has to stay sharp, too.
"Now you're playing against some of the best in the world," he said. "So you've got to really get prepared for it every day, coming in here ... get prepared, get focused."20 comments on this story
Maynor is also trying to deal with bouncing butterflies in his gut as he gets ready to put his No. 3 jersey on for the first time in front of a Jazz crowd.
"That's going to be exciting. I'm ready for (tonight), a little overexcited right now," he said. "But as I get on the floor and start running up and down, I'll be OK."
It helps that he has a solid mentor.
Maybe too solid of one?
Reminded that he eventually took Palacio's job back in the 2005-06 season, Williams laughed a little.
"You could say that," he said, smiling. "Maybe I don't need to be helping Eric out."