School in session: NBA hoops and English on Jazz rookie Rudy Gobert's class schedule
SALT LAKE CITY — Some University of Utah students might’ve gotten excited, or at least intrigued, Wednesday when they saw a very tall young man roaming around the school.
Unfortunately for Ute coach Larry Krystkowiak, the 7-foot-1 player wasn’t there to play hoops.
While Jazz rookie Rudy Gobert was the Big Man On Campus for a day, he was at the U. to do what so many other people his age do every day.
And, no, that didn’t include going bowling at the Union or eating a slice of pizza at The Pie.
He's trying to learn.
Gobert, who moved to the U.S. for good last September for his job with the Jazz, is studying with a university professor to work on his second language. The 21-year-old took English lessons for a year and a half in France leading up to the 2013 NBA draft, and being immersed in a country with non-French speakers has only enhanced his ability to communicate in his home away from home. He wants to get even better.
When it comes to his ever-improving English, Gobert said, “I feel more just a habit.”
The student-athlete’s increased comfort level in the NBA is on a parallel course.
Neither his English nor his game is fully developed, but positive results are coming about thanks to extra hours of work. That’s a habit the Jazz organization has appreciated since acquiring the No. 27 pick in a draft-day trade with Denver last June.
“He's working hard in practice every day,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “He's working in the weight room trying to get stronger. It’s just going to be a process with him.”
Gobert logged a career-high 27 minutes in his last outing, the 112-97 home loss to Minnesota, as coaches gave him a chance to play behind temporary starter Enes Kanter in injured Derrick Favors’ absence.
That, however, was only the third time the center has surpassed the 20-minute mark this season. In fact, he’s only seen time in 20 of the Jazz’s 43 games.
Tuesday’s performance was one of his best as an NBA player. The "Stifle Tower," who lists Paris and “Swat Lake City" as his homes on his Twitter bio, had a career-high three blocked shots. He also scored eight points, which was just the second time he’s put more than five on the scoreboard in his sparse showings.
“It’s been a long time,” he said in the locker room Tuesday, “so it feels good for me.”
Gobert’s patience has been tested his rookie season.
The Frenchman got some time off the bench for the Jazz for the first couple of weeks, even registering double-digit rebound games twice in early November. He also played a pivotal role in Utah’s 89-83 win over Chicago on Nov. 25.
Mostly, though, he’s been the team’s tallest cheerleader at the end of the bench.
After not playing in one game earlier this season, Gobert even took to Twitter to tell his followers that he believed he could’ve made a difference in the outcome, a Jazz loss, had he played.
Gobert later deleted the tweet.
He hasn’t erased the desire to compete or scrubbed out the belief that he can be a game-changer.
“I’m not very patient, but it’s hard (to wait),” Gobert admitted. “I’ve just got to keep telling myself I’m going to have my chance and just keep working.”
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