DENVER — They could've made an early splash as rookie of the year candidates, struggled through a bunch of boneheaded plays or spent the night in the role of cheerleaders.

Wouldn't matter.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan would still give the same advice to his two rookies.

And the sermon — which he hopes first-year pros Eric Maynor and Wesley Matthews take to heart — is one he's heard and preached innumerable times the past 44 years through his three-decade-long coaching tenure and clear back to 1965 when he was wet behind the ears as an NBA newcomer with the Baltimore Bullets.

"Yeah," he said when asked Wednesday about his message for the new guys. "Keep your nose to the grindstone and work."

Sloan liked what he saw this preseason from both Maynor, Utah's first-round pick from Virginia Commonwealth, and Matthews, an undrafted Marquette product who's earned a roster spot for now.

The coach believes both are on the right path, which is why he rewarded them both with playing time in the NBA season-opener.

Somewhat surprisingly, it was Matthews who made the first rookie debut with 1:54 remaining in the first quarter.

Maynor finally got his expected entrance with 35.1 left in the opening half after veteran Ronnie Price switched between guard spots and got the first crack at spelling Deron Williams.

Matthews, who had his only shot blocked, finished with no points in five minutes. Maynor didn't take a shot in his three minutes.

Sloan didn't promise them playing time, but he wanted to throw them in the fire right away.

"We've got to get them out there and play them," Sloan said.

Sloan has complimented Maynor's quick grasp of the offense and how Matthews has provided toughness and an occasional scoring spark this fall.

Neither shot particularly well in eight exhibition games, but Maynor averaged 8.8 points and 4.1 assists while running the show and Matthews chipped in 8.1 points while starting four times because of injuries. Both averaged 20-plus preseason minutes, giving them an early taste and test.

Of course, Sloan pointed out, things get exponentially tougher during the 82-game grind.

"But we want those guys to develop as much as they can and see who they are," he said, "and they'll get opportunities to do that some because right now we're shorthanded a little bit."

The 6-3 Maynor had been Williams' primary backup while Price nursed a strained left hamstring that kept him out of the final four preseason games.

Matthews, a 6-5 small forward, really had a case of right place-right time, seeing as veteran wing players Matt Harpring, Kyle Korver and C.J. Miles are out of action with various injuries.

"They lucked out with that," Sloan said.

He doesn't want to sound uncaring, but Sloan says young guys should grasp those opportunities that come at someone else's expense.

"And when I get out there," he said, "I've got to have something positive happen for me. They've done pretty well with that."

Neither expected to be overtaken by nerves for their debuts.

"I'm a cool, calm guy," Maynor said prior to tipoff. "So, I think I'll be all right, man. It's just basketball."

He was excited, however, to get Game 1 under his belt so he could say, "Yeah, I got that first one out of the way, now let's roll."

Same for Matthews.

"I like to pride myself in the fact," he said, "that I can keep my emotions in check and focus on what's important and what's real."

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Plus, he added, "Like Eric said, 'Basketball's basketball.'"

While his rookies work hard to find their place, Sloan hopes they remember the thrill of the experience.

"This is a wonderful business to be apart of," Sloan said. "They all dreamed of being here, they're here. It's a lot of work ahead of ya."

e-mail: jody@desnews.com