Not counting a cross-country flight delay, things went smoothly for both Eric Maynor and Goran Suton as they met with Utah media Friday at the end of a whirlwind week and less than 24 hours after being drafted by the Jazz.
Smoothly for the most part, that is.
Not surprisingly, the players — one raised on a country road, the other in a war-torn country — acted humble. They smiled and were positive about being in Utah. They talked about how thrilled they were to be drafted by the Jazz. And, while seated on the training-facility dais between general manager Kevin O'Connor and coach Jerry Sloan, they wisely proclaimed themselves ready and willing to work hard on and off the court.
"I'm excited to be a Utah Jazz. This is a dream come true for me," said Maynor, a point guard from Virginia Commonwealth University who was drafted 20th overall by Utah. "I've worked my whole life just to get to this point."
"This is a great organization, great coach, great people," added Suton, the 6-foot-10 center from Michigan State who was Utah's second-round pick. "And I just can't wait to get on the court, start working and start playing for coach Sloan."
The smooth "Kumbaya" moment had one minor exception — one that resulted in an outburst of laughter and perhaps some embarrassment — to the smooth start for Utah's new backup point guard. During the press conference, it was revealed that Maynor has some family history with his future coach.
"This is weird," Maynor said with a grin after being asked how close his dad, George, came to making the NBA.
"Let's not talk about that," O'Connor joked.
But Sloan didn't back away.
"I guess," he admitted, "I cut his dad when I was coaching in Chicago."
No need to worry, though. His dad, Maynor reassured everybody, has not held a grudge since having his NBA dreams crushed about 30 years ago. In fact, the new Jazzman didn't even know that had happened until his dad, his hoops mentor and hero, dropped him off at the airport on Wednesday before Maynor made a last-minute trip to interview with Utah.
"He's a Utah Jazz fan now," Maynor laughed. "I didn't even know about the situation. He just told me as he was dropping me off, 'Tell Jerry Sloan I say hello.' "
Fortunately for Maynor, the Jazz are much more optimistic about his future in the league.
O'Connor said the Jazz were "very, very comfortable" when Maynor was still available for them and called the 6-foot-3 playmaker, who averaged 22.4 points and 6.2 assists as a VCU senior, one of the three or four "true point guards" in the backcourt-loaded draft.
In need of more consistency behind Deron Williams in the point guard position, the franchise's front office is as impressed with Maynor's hoops knowledge, including of the pick-and-roll, as they are with his play — highlights of which included him helping his team beat Duke in a memorable NCAA first-round game in 2007 with a last-second jumper and twice earning Colonial Athletic Association player of the year honors.
"If you look at the success that he's had and ... you look at the success he's had when it's counted, whether it's been in the conference tournament or whether it's been in the NCAAs, I think you see a player that's stepped up to the challenge," O'Connor said.
"He's got a pretty big challenge ahead of him now," the Jazz GM added, "and we expect him to step up to it."
Having grown up in a trailer at the end of a dirt road as a self-described "country guy" from the tiny town of Raeford, N.C., the 22-year-old Maynor looks forward to the challenge and opportunity. Heck, he's been telling his dad since they started playing basketball together when Maynor was 5 or 6 years old that he was going to be drafted. And now that that's happened, and even though he's a big Chris Paul fan, Maynor can't wait to start playing with and learning from Williams, another point guard he admires. He even planned on calling Williams on Friday to get the ball rolling.
"I think it's going to do me real good," Maynor said, "because I get to compete against one of the best in the world every day, and I think that's going to make me better."
Suton's winding path to Utah actually started in Sarajevo, Bosnia. That's where the center grew up — he even played with the national team as a 14-year-old — before his family left the battle-plagued country for good and landed in Lansing, Mich., as refugees. Family members already in Michigan helped the Sutons relocate just before he entered high school.
"We just kind of looked for a new beginning, for a better life," Suton said. "In Bosnia, it (was) a very hard situation and my parents wanted to get a better opportunity for me and my brother."
Suton wound up at nearby Michigan State, where he continued to blossom as a big man and eventually helped the Spartans make it to last spring's NCAA championship game.
The Jazz like that Suton, a solid rebounder who has good outside range, excelled under a tough and talented coach in Tom Izzo. Suton also credits current Ute coach and former Spartan assistant Jim Boylen for helping him — both in losing body fat and improving his basketball game — during their one year together at MSU.
The Jazz re-emphasized Friday that they are plenty pleased with their late pick-up. O'Connor even challenged Suton, who was just here on Monday for a workout, to earn playing time by following the hard-working example of late second-round draftee Paul Millsap (47th overall in 2006).
"If you want to do something, turn on the games in the NCAA Tournaments and watch him play and those answer a lot of questions on why we drafted him," O'Connor said. "He brings a lot of things to the table and he had a terrific (college) career. … He's somebody who's a willing worker."
Suton, who doesn't have a guaranteed contract as a second-round pick and possibly could end up in Europe, will get a chance to impress his new team next week when the Jazz begin training camp for their Orlando summer league.
That, Sloan jokingly suggested to him, leaves him no time to waste.
"He has four days to get into shape," Sloan said.
Like Maynor, a lanky 164-pounder who says he also needs to hit the weight room pretty hard, Suton says he's up to that challenge of working his way into the Jazz's hearts and playing plans.
"I think this is the best thing that's ever happened to me," Suton said. "I worked to get here. I tell myself don't worry where you've been, but where you're about to go. That's my motive — just staying humble, working every day, not taking things for granted."
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