SALT LAKE CITY — Shane Larkin is a great athlete. He proved that at the recent NBA combine when he posted a vertical leap of 44 inches, the second-best mark in the history of the annual pre-draft showcase. So why didn’t he follow in the footsteps of his Hall of Fame father, Barry, and try to become a Major League Baseball player?
Turns out that when he was 8 years old and trying to emulate former Cincinnati Reds players, such as Tony Perez and Pete Rose, his little league coach told him his batting form was all wrong. He followed his coach’s instructions, but wasn’t successful — so he quit baseball.
“That was my last year of organized baseball — ever,’’ he said.
As a result, Larkin turned to basketball, where he has excelled enough that he is projected as a likely first-round pick in this month’s NBA draft after a stellar career for the University of Miami.
Larkin showed off his talents Wednesday to Utah Jazz coaches as one of six players brought to work out along with Lorenzo Brown, a 6-5 guard from North Carolina State; Reggie Bullock, a 6-7 forward from North Carolina; Amath M'Baye, a 6-9 forward from Oklahoma; Tony Mitchell, a 6-8 forward from North Texas; and Malik Story, a 6-5 guard from Nevada.
Larkin apparently impressed the Jazz with his play on the floor and really impressed the media with his engaging personality in a seven-minute interview after his session.
“I love being out in front of people, love talking with people, so it’s good,’’ he said.
When asked to sell himself to the Jazz, Larkin said, “I’m a good guy on and off the court. I’d be great in the community, a friendly face. If anybody ever sees me in the community and he can come up to me, I’m never going to be stuck up.’’
And his game? “I did well in college and was second-team AP All-American.’’
Larkin also talked about his ability to play the pick-and-roll, his outstanding jumping talent and his ability to run an offense.
His more than two-hour workout with five other players was closed to the media and Jazz coaches didn’t comment on how he fared against two 6-foot-5 guards and three forwards. However, Jazz head scout Walt Perrin was complimentary of Larkin.
“Shane’s 44 vertical is unbelievable for a point guard,’’ he said. “It was eye-popping seeing those kind of numbers from Shane.’’
The one concern about Larkin is his height at 5 foot, 11 inches. Only a handful of players in the NBA are under 6 feet tall.
Larkin said his workout was useful because he was able to go up against bigger players and prove he can guard them.
“It was good that I had to go out and play with bigger players,’’ he said. “I think I proved that I can do it. I’ve seen people say that, ‘His height, he can’t play defense, da-da-da,’ so I went out today to prove that. Today was big for me and I think I did a pretty good job.’’
While his height may hurt his NBA prospects, Perrin downplayed it.
“Does it matter? There’s a couple of other players in the league (that size) still playing. If a guy can play, it doesn’t matter what his size is,’’ Perrin said. “We think he can play. How well he plays on this level is something we have to evaluate.’’
Perrin acknowledged that not every player brought in is a prospect to be drafted. But the one other player who may be a possibility to be a Jazz draft pick is Brown, a lanky guard who was recruited by current Jazz assistant Sidney Lowe to N.C. State. Most draft boards list him among the top six or seven point guards this year.
Six more players will work out for the Jazz Thursday — Marquette guard Vander Blue, Baylor guard Pierre Jackson, Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley, Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe, Arizona forward Solomon Hill and Georgia Tech guard Glen Rice Jr.