SALT LAKE CITY — One of the great things about the Utah Jazz organization has always been their desire and willingness to get involved in the community.
Well, they were at it again on Saturday morning at the Zions Bank Basketball Center, where a group of 40 youths — representing Big Brothers and Big Sisters Utah and the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Valley — gathered for a free basketball clinic conducted by the Jazz coaching staff.
The NBA team's two newest members, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks, who were selected by Utah in the 2011 NBA Draft on Thursday night, were also on hand to help teach the youngsters fundamental basketball skills.
In Journalism 101 back during my college days, we were always told to never use the expression "a good time was had by all" when writing about an event because there's always a chance that somebody didn't enjoy themselves — you know, maybe Bobby and Betty Sue broke up at the big dance, or Billy hurt his back trying to find out "how low can you go" during the limbo.
However, in the case of this clinic, I'm gonna go out on a journalistic limb and say "a good time was had by all" — Jazz coaches and players, the team's administrative staff that organized the whole thing, volunteers from the participating Big Brothers and Sisters and Boys and Girls Clubs organizations, the parents who were on hand.
And especially the kids.
"Seeing the new Jazz players and the coaches and learning everything from them, it was pretty awesome," said Kyra Wellington, 12, of Bountiful. "I learned some stuff today.
"I'm not playing in a league right now because I didn't sign up in time at the Boys and Girls Club, but I love to watch and I learn a lot from watching. It'd be fun to play. I've got some skills, not a lot."
The clinic was divided into four separate skills — shooting, dribbling, passing and defense — with the youths divided into four groups, which rotated around the gym every few minutes so each group got instruction in each of the four different skills.
After the youngsters went through some stretching exercises, Jazz assistant coach Jeff Hornacek and Burks conducted the shooting instruction at the clinic; Richard Smith, the team's director of basketball operations, was in charge of the dribbling drills; assistant coach Scott Layden handled the passing portion of the clinic; and Jazz head coach Ty Corbin and Kanter taught the kids the right way to play defense.
Wellington said she preferred the dribbling drills, "because when they had us close our eyes for the dribble, I actually could feel the ball and the rhythm with how it was going and I could actually keep my hands with the ball," she said. "I felt like I was psychic or something."
Claire Matheson, a 12-year-old from Holladay who will be a seventh-grader at Evergreen Junior High this fall, showed slick shooting skills, even though the only time she plays basketball is just when she's having fun with her friends.
"I liked doing the defense with the coach," she said. "It was really fun."
You'd better sign her up, coach — somebody who actually wants to play defense and not just shoot the ball.
Colton Wheeler, 12, of Murray said his favorite part of Saturday's event was "probably meeting the players and the coach and seeing how they all do the drills."
He said he didn't learn much from the clinic, though, since they have a basketball league at the Boys and Girls Club and he plays every week.
"But they told us to bend your wrist back when you shoot. I don't shoot like that, though," Wheeler said. "I got to meet the two first-round draft picks. I wanted them to draft Jimmer, but they didn't."
Fourteen-year-old Presston Johnson, a husky redhead from West Valley City, was grateful for the opportunity to attend Saturday's clinic.
"The thing I really enjoyed about this was coming here and meeting all of the Jazz players, getting a couple of pictures," he said. "I've always been a big fan of the Jazz. I watch 'em on TV and I've came to one or two games. I like all of them, but my favorite player was Carlos Boozer — until he switched teams. I was sorry he left; he was a pretty good player."
And as for the clinic, Johnson's sentiment was something most of us can relate to: "It's a lot harder than they make it look," he said. "They make it look easy."
Following the clinic, the group gathered for a photo, then got to tour the Zions Bank basketball facility's locker room and have more photos with Kanter and Burks. Corbin then conducted a humorous question-and-answer session with the kids, fielding queries about such topics as former Jazzmen Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Matt Harpring; almost-a-Jazzman Jimmer Fredette; former coach Jerry Sloan; the lack of three-second calls in the lane and a question about whether the L.A. Lakers cheat.
Corbin was also asked if the Jazz had ever won an NBA championship.
"No, we haven't won a championship yet," he said, "but next year's another year."
And, when asked if he'd ever want to be a player for the Jazz, Corbin graciously answered, "I was a player for the Jazz for three years, but that was back when you were still in your mommy's stomach."
The Jazz coach was also asked who was his favorite player on the team.
"I have 12 to 14 favorite players on the team," Corbin said diplomatically. "I can't think of any of their names right now."
And, before their day was done, the youths also received gifts from the team and got a chance to pose for pictures with coach Corbin.
"There were a couple of good shooters out there today," Hornacek said. "It's always fun to see the kids, I think their eyes lit up when Alec was out there and they see him kinda helping 'em out, too, so it's good to see those kids out there. It's fun. … It's fun to get to do some shooting with them."
Yep, like I said, I'm pretty sure a good time was had by all — a good time indeed.
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