International man of mentoring: Experiences away from NBA drive Jazz guard John Lucas III
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — John Lucas III has been around NBA basketball for most of his life.
During introductions at the Utah Jazz’s intrasquad scrimmage earlier this month, the 30-year-old told a funny story about dealing with Dennis Rodman as a ballboy when his dad was a coach for the San Antonio Spurs.
“Dennis is crazy,” Lucas said, laughing. “He used to cut his toenails on the bench and I had to go clean it up.”
Despite his up-close-and-personal relationship with the NBA — sometimes too up-close-and-personal — Lucas still draws on experiences away from the world’s most elite basketball league to drive him.
While this John Lucas made a name for himself in the NBA as Derrick Rose’s backup a couple of years ago in Chicago, the point guard stokes his competitive fire by recalling his days with the D-League’s Tulsa 66ers and Colorado 14ers, Italy’s Snaidero Udine and Benetton Treviso, Spain’s TAU Ceramica and China’s Shanghai Sharks.
That topic came up before Thursday’s practice. He smiled talking about playing against Jazz roster hopeful Lester Hudson behind the Great Wall, a place he’d rather visit as a tourist than live as a pro basketball player.
Nothing against China. Lucas just feels cozy in the NBA, and wants to keep it that way.
“Every time I step on the court, (I think), 'I don’t want to go back to Italy. I don’t want to go back to Spain. Don’t want to go back to China (or the) D-League,'” Lucas said. “I feel like I’m at home. I just have that in the back of my head all the time, so when I step on that court I give it everything I have.”
With Trey Burke’s injury situation, Lucas finds himself in the most opportune moment in his NBA career. For the foreseeable future, he will be tasked with the Jazz's starting point guard duties and trusted as a playmaking leader of a young team that has some exciting parts and potential.
In his previous five NBA campaigns, Lucas only has two total starts — both in Chicago during the 2011-12 season.
“You never know what happens in this league — Trey’s injury, stuff like that — (or) when your opportunity is going to come,” Lucas said. “That’s what the whole practice is for. I play like it’s a game, so when your opportunity comes and your number is called, it’s like second nature.”
Although he has a strong basketball pedigree, the path to becoming an NBA starter hasn't been a straight shot.
Lucas wasn’t drafted out of Oklahoma State in 2005 after helping the Cowboys earn a spot in the 2004 Final Four. His pro career began in Tulsa (D-League) where he played for a year, which included a 13-game call-up by the Houston Rockets.
From there, Lucas bounced from Italy, back to Houston, back to Italy, then to Colorado (D-League), Spain and China before finally returning to the NBA with Chicago. After being cut, re-signed and cut again by the Bulls in 2010-11, Lucas found himself back in Shanghai.
His whirlwind tour was back in full force a couple of months later when he was brought back to Chicago, where he finally found a home for a little more than a year in 2011-12.
Lucas was back on the international scene that summer, but at least this time it was in the NBA with Toronto. After one season with the Raptors, the globetrotter was signed by the Jazz, in part to be a veteran mentor for the recently drafted Burke.
Having seemingly traveled enough to be secretary of state, Lucas is happy to have settled into a steady spot in Salt Lake City and the NBA at this point of his catch-me-now career.
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