SALT LAKE CITY — Drafting got a whole lot easier for the Jazz on Thursday, if you ask me.
They should pick Wiggins and A.K.
How hard is that?
The Jazz checked out six players in their pre-draft workout and it couldn’t have gone better. Everyone showed up. Some struggled with the altitude, a few shot poorly, others lacked strength. But that’s standard. Workouts like Thursday’s aren’t designed to find the player they’ll select with their No. 5 pick. They’re for checking into whom they should take with the 23rd and 35th picks.
For me it’s a no-brainer.
You take the foreign guy, Artem Klimenko, because he has the same initials as another Russian guy the Jazz drafted long ago. They could call him AK-47.2 or AK-48. And you take Nick Wiggins because you don’t want to be the team that passes on any Wiggins, even if he's only the brother of this year’s draft darling.
Joking aside, Jazz scouting boss Walt Perrin calls the 7-foot, 242-pound Klimenko “a very intriguing player.” Intriguing enough that I went to Zions Bank Basketball Center to check him out. I wanted to know exactly what he knew about Andrei Kirilenko, who spent 10 years with the Jazz. I was disappointed. No deltoid-to-deltoid dragon tattoo on his back. No Mohawk, Fonz, pageboy, mullet or grunge haircut.
“He doesn’t like that stuff,” said his interpreter when asked about revolving haircuts.
And there was certainly no Russian pop-star wife.
Asked if he knew who Masha Lopatova was, he shook his head and — in one of the few things he said in English — Klimenko replied, “I don’t know.”
“He doesn’t know that much about her,” the interpreter elaborated.
Realistically, everyone’s looking for a 7-footer with potential. Perrin admitted interest, but added, “He needs to get stronger, especially the upper body.”
Perrin went on to call him “intriguing for the future.”
For the present, he’s just another European player who doesn’t love the weight room.
I asked if Klimenko knew Kirilenko. After some back-and-forth, the interpreter said, “He’s never met him before but he’s proud and would like to meet him.”
I inquired if, growing up, his favorite player was Kirilenko. The interpreter said Klimenko was from Ukraine, though biographical summaries list his birthplace as Russia.
“Growing up, he didn’t really know who Kirilenko was,” the interpreter said. “It was probably about five years ago that he really became known to him.”
Considering Klimenko is 20 and Kirilenko 33, it’s surprising Klimenko doesn’t have an AK-47 tattoo.
Undeterred, I asked whether he wanted to be known as AK-48.
“He says you can call him whatever you want to call him,” the interpreter said.
While Klimenko would be a project pick, you never know. Kirilenko was drafted in 1999 at No. 24. But he didn’t play in Utah until 2001. Perrin was vague as to whether they could stash the new A.K. in Europe for a couple of years.
For the moment, Klimenko seemed like an ordinary, unassuming guy. He didn’t bring a wife who made a music video called “Sugary.” He didn’t have visible body art at all. Nor did he know enough English to entertain people with some of Kirilenko’s fractured but lovable phrases.
Still, I figure it’s time the Jazz get another A.K. in town. New Mexico’s Alex Kirk was there on Thursday, but what fun would he be? Klimenko might be the reincarnation of former Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko, a Ukranian who once vowed if Jennifer Aniston was in the crowd at the Staples Center, he’d steal a look — even if Jerry Sloan objected.4 comments on this story
“I would do it,” he said. “I’d be really happy to see Jennifer Aniston. I watch her, like, 25 seasons.”
Now that was personality.
Kirilenko had personality, too. He cried when Sloan left him on the bench in the playoffs. He rolled his eyes and shook his head when asked about his wife’s one-dalliance-per-year remark. He vacationed where wild pigs roamed the beach.
I’m just wondering if Klimenko can get to the rim in traffic.
That was something even the original A.K. had a hard time doing.
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