Utah Jazz happy with new foreign players — and they're happy to be with the Jazz
SALT LAKE CITY — It took Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey just a few seconds to correct his faux pas of calling one of his two new point guards “Raul Lopez” — a guy who played for the Jazz a decade ago — instead of Raul Neto.
It wasn’t like Lindsey didn’t know much about Neto, the third player the Jazz traded for in Thursday night’s NBA draft in a deal announced after most folks had gone to bed.
Lindsey has known about the 6-foot-2, 21-year-old Brazilian for several years — since he worked for San Antonio as an assistant general manager. Spurs forward Tiago Splitter tipped Lindsey off about a teenage point guard from his home country of Brazil. “Watch Raul. He’s really good,’’ Splitter told Lindsey, and the Jazz's current general manager has kept tabs on him ever since. When the chance came to get him Thursday night, Lindsey pounced.
Like Lindsey already knew about Neto, Neto already knew about the Jazz. His father, also named Raul, had a favorite player in the NBA named John Stockton and told his son that he hoped he would be drafted by the Utah Jazz.
Well, the Jazz didn’t draft Neto, but they worked out a deal to trade a second-round pick acquired from New Jersey to Atlanta, which took Neto with the 47th pick Thursday night.
“It was his favorite player — ever — and he told me before the draft, ‘I want you to get drafted by the Utah Jazz,’’’ the younger Neto revealed Friday afternoon while standing on the floor inside the Zions Bank Basketball Center.
So what happened when his father found out he was indeed going to the Jazz?
“He started to cry and gave me a hug. I think he was happier than me,’’ said young Neto.
The elder Neto was on hand at the Jazz's practice facility Friday to watch his son meet the press for the first time and said he didn’t speak English well enough to be interviewed. But he was clearly proud of his son.
Neto played for Lagun Aro of the Spanish league, considered the best basketball league in the word behind the NBA.
“I’ll do my best to prove I can play in the NBA,’’ he said. “I’m a good driver, but I have to improve my shot. And my defense too. I can play the pick-and-roll well; that’s one of the things I learned in Spain. I’m more of the point guard who makes more assists than points.’’
Before Neto, the Jazz also acquired another foreign player through a trade: 7-foot-2 center Rudy Gobert of France, who fans heard a lot about Thursday night.
Gobert had been in Utah earlier in the month for a workout and impressed Jazz officials so much that they felt they needed to find a way to get him on draft night.
“It was a good workout and I showed what I can do on defense and blocking shots,’’ Gobert said. “I showed too that I was getting better on my shots and post game.’’
Everyone kept talking about Gobert's height and wingspan (7 foot 9) Friday, but Lindsey emphasized there's more to Gobert than his size.
“We didn’t draft Rudy just because he’s 7 foot 2 and has a 9-7 (standing) reach,’’ said Lindsay. “Rudy’s very competitive and as you guys will soon see he’s a serious worker.’’
Coach Tyrone Corbin raved about Gobert’s length and added: “He can run the floor and gets a joy out of blocking shots.”
Gobert said he got his height from his father, who is 7 feet tall and played for Marist College in New York and as a professional in France for 10 years. His father hails from Guadeloupe in the West Indies, while his mother, who is “normal’’ size according to Gobert, is from France.
He said he patterns his game after Tyson Chandler defensively and Pau Gasol and Roy Hibbert offensively.
Lindsey credited Rich Sheubrooks, Utah’s director of global and pro scouting, in helping the Jazz get the two foreign players on draft night. Sheubrooks is in his second year with the Jazz and currently resides in Barcelona, Spain.
The Jazz GM is confident that Gobert will play with the team this year, but said they may have to wait on Neto.
“It’s open-ended," Lindsey said. "We have to get through free agency and get contractual information from Raul’s agent. Everybody needs to know with Raul, whether he is here this year or next, he’s part of the Jazz family. We’re totally committed to his career.’’
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