SALT LAKE CITY — Imagine Greg Ostertag. Now picture a court full of guys who were much shorter, remarkably slower and worse outside shooters than the oft-goofy player Karl Malone called out for returning one fall with an oversized caboose.
That was what the Utah Jazz coaching staff had to work with during a fantasy training camp this past week.
Considering how silly they got to make newspaper, TV and radio guys look for a two-hour period, this was one media session the coaches clearly savored.
Perhaps their favorite part?
Most of us were too winded to ask inane questions.
While a new labor deal is hammered out, Tyrone Corbin, Scott Layden, Jeff Hornacek and Sidney Lowe have extra time on their hands. Sure, they've strategized and prepared for whenever real basketball gets here. In the meantime, they've put on camp-like clinics at the team training facility for season ticket holders, sponsors and VIPs.
For a day, participants experience what it's like to be Paul Millsap and Gordon Hayward — minus the million dollar contracts and pink princess backpacks.
Wednesday was the media's day, and we were given full access to the place.
We parked our clunkers in the secured lot where Deron Williams' fancy cars used to chill.
We goofed around in the locker room, where smiling media guys took over personalized lockers usually occupied by NBA players.
We even got to dip into the water station gum dish.
There were limitations. No whirlpool, massages or kicking back with popcorn in the team theater room. While wandering through the training room, I was teased, "What are you doing back here?" (I resisted making a Carlos Boozer joke.)
But I did manage to find my way into Kevin O'Connor's office, which has a big window that overlooks the two basketball courts.
"Keep your day job," the Jazz general manager said after watching me struggle with 20 media types.
The coaches might be reconsidering their career paths due to their closer view of the court carnage. At the very least, they might have to reel in unrealistic expectations once they get their real players back and see how good they are compared to media ballers.
Coaches witnessed us stumble while stretching. They heard our groans in warm-up exercises, encouraged us as we tortured the rim (and air) with off-target layup and jumper attempts, patiently guided us through drills and watched as four teams struggled for 10 minutes to hit three buckets in scrimmage action.
Considered by many (people named Jody Genessy) to be the John Stockton of the Kearns South Stake in the 1980s, my hoop skills were rusty.
I sweated up an Al Jefferson-like storm. My defensive slide was more of a sideways hobble. I ricocheted the ball off the bottom of the backboard on back-to-back drives. (Who knew Layden — a.k.a. Coach "Tuck Your Shirt In!" — was such a fierce defender?)
I dribbled with the grace of Kyrylo Fesenko. And slow-motion was my fastest speed.
But it was a blast being with coaches and cohorts in this setting.
I choked away an opportunity to be the hero.
To end practice — more importantly, to begin lunch — three guys had to hit one free throw. Each miss cost us a full-court-and-back wind sprint.
By the time Hornacek called me to the line, two foul shots and a whole lot of wind sprints had already been made.
All I needed to do to put the media out of our misery was sink a free throw — just like No. 12 had as a teen to win the Kearns South Stake championship for the 25th Ward.
Knowing what was at stake (not that stake), I toed the charity stripe, bounced the ball and paid homage to Hornacek with a reenactment of his famous face-touching free-throw-line tribute.
Well, until I missed the rim, the net and barely ticked the backboard with one of the worst shots of the day.
Then we ran again while the coaches laughed.
"If you're going to do it," Hornacek told me, "you've got to do it right."
For starters, he explained, I swiped my cheek far too late in the process. My form lacked rhythm. He didn't mention it, but aim and touch would've been nice, too.
"Go for the make, not the humor," Corbin advised me.
Another lesson learned now that my body — from the extra junk in my trunk to my right shooting elbow — remains sore as I type?
Stick to writing about other people's shots.
(Like the splendid shot KSL.com's Graydon Johns made to earn him MVP honors for mercifully ending our sprint session.)
After all of the fun, I asked Corbin for a once-in-a-lifetime assessment of my basketball skills.
Validation from a pro's pro could be the moment of redemption this chubby 5-foot-8 guy has waited for since being a first-cut casualty at Kearns Junior High basketball tryouts in 1985.
"You know what?" Corbin said. "I think you have a great love for the game."
Professional compliment appreciated.
And, honestly, I've come to grips knowing that this writer's game is better on paper.
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