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Utah Jazz notebook: Guard Earl Watson will be pulling for alma mater UCLA against Utes

Published: Friday, Oct. 12 2012 10:27 p.m. MDT

Utah Jazz head coach Tyrone Corbin looks up into the crowd as the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder play Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 in pre-season action at the Energy Solutions arena in Salt Lake City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Earl Watson sported University of Utah gear and cheered for the Utes — and, yes, against USC — at Rice-Eccles Stadium last week.

Don't expect the Utah Jazz guard to don any crimson today, however. He's not ready to put on a Jazz uniform yet, either (but more on that later).

Considering Watson is a guy who reveres John Wooden and who even threw out a Rafer Johnson reference on Friday, his allegiances clearly lie with his alma mater in this afternoon's game between his beloved UCLA and Utah.

Watson and the Jazz's assistant equipment manager, Adam Klauke, a 2009 University of Utah alum, even have a friendly wager on the Pac-12 clash.

"The loser," Watson explained, "has to wear the other school's jersey."

Not only that, but a photo of the humiliating outfit will publicly shame them online.

"It goes on Instagram and Twitter, Facebook and all other seven social (media) websites I don't know about," Watson said, smiling.

The Bruin likes UCLA's chances, of course.

"We kind of struggle on the road, but at home I think we're pretty good," he said. "I'm not giving any points, though."

Watson is optimistic but less certain about his immediate playing future.

He hasn't been able to participate with the Jazz in practices yet as he continues to rehab his right knee, which underwent surgery in April for a torn medial meniscus.

Watson, who will travel with the Jazz on their three-game Los Angeles trip, has improved to the point he can now shoot the basketball, run, swim and do stationary cycling — which led to a suggestion he should try a triathlon and his bringing up Johnson, a UCLA track legend and Olympic gold medalist.

But Watson said he still has work to do to build his "foundation" muscles, which will help keep his knee strong.

"I'm actually getting stronger, so it's progressing," Watson said. "I feel great. I'll just continue to stay at it every day, just focus. You've got to be focused every day on it. Eventually, sometime I'll get on the court."

Any projection for when?

"My target date," Watson said, "is as soon as possible."

LEARNING CURVE: With offseason acquisitions Mo Williams, Marvin Williams and Randy Foye all new to the Jazz system this year, coach Tyrone Corbin was asked how well they're doing as far as familiarizing themselves with Utah's way of doing things.

Corbin seemed encouraged by the progress being made by the newcomers, who all figure very prominently into the Jazz's plans this season.

"You know what, they're coming. It's a lot of stuff for them," the Jazz coach said. "And it's not only the three of them learning each other, but them learning the guys that's been here and figuring out where different guys want the ball at different times. (It's) the guy setting the pick and roll (learning) what Al (Jefferson) would do compared to Paul (Millsap) and Derrick (Favors) and Enes (Kanter), or for Marvin and where he can come off if he gets a low-post opportunity and where the big guys will go in those situations.

"So it's a process that's going to take some more time, but it's getting better every day that we play together."

PRESEASON PURPOSE: While many media members and even fans don't put much stock in exhibition games, NBA coaches certainly use them as a barometer to see how well their team is progressing prior to the regular season.

"You always look at the players," Corbin said when asked what he was looking for in Friday's game with Oklahoma City, which lost in the NBA Finals in June. "You want to see how we improve from the first game and from practice and the things we can transfer over. We want to get better at some execution stuff that we didn't do particularly well in the first exhibition game over at Golden State."

EMAIL: jody@desnews.com; rhollis@desnews.com

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