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Utah Jazz: 5 questions with Sundiata Gaines

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2015 5:17 p.m. MDT

Jazz guard Sundiata Gaines puts up a jump shot in his NBA debut appearance last week against the Memphis Grizzlies.  (Mike Terry, Deseret News) Jazz guard Sundiata Gaines puts up a jump shot in his NBA debut appearance last week against the Memphis Grizzlies. (Mike Terry, Deseret News)

It's been a whirlwind week for the newest member of the Utah Jazz. He went from being a star for the D-League's Idaho Stampede one day to playing 20-plus minutes the next during his first-ever NBA game — Wednesday's home win over Memphis. Deseret News writer Loren Jorgensen caught up with Gaines at practice on Thursday.

1. Question: What was it like playing in your first-ever NBA game?A: With Deron (Williams) being out, they told me that there was a chance I might play, so I was ready. When I got in the game, I won't lie, I was nervous at first. That kinda went away pretty soon and I realized it was just basketball. But just playing in my first NBA game was a dream come true. It felt great.

2. Question: You grew up in Queens, N.Y., then played college ball at Georgia and have played professionally in Italy, Idaho and now Utah over the past two years. So have you enjoyed all your travels and the cultural differences?

Answer: I've definitely done a lot of traveling and have had a lot of learning experiences everywhere I've been. It's really worked out for me in the long haul. In Italy, I learned about the professional game and how to act like a pro. The main thing in the NBA is the pick-and-roll on offense and knowing where all the other players are going to be. It was like that in Italy and they have similar defensive schemes, so that really helped prepare me. That transferred on to the Developmental League. I got to play a lot and work on my game there, and I played against the Utah Flash, which helped me understand their plays and how they do things with the Jazz.

3. Question: Off the court, how was your experience in Italy?

Answer: It was good. I learned a little Italian while I was there. The food was very different, different than I expected. It's not like Americans cook Italian food. I would say that it's not as seasoned. The good thing is that their food is more healthy for you. Overall, I enjoyed my time there.

4. Question: You could have stayed in Europe and made a lot more money this season than you were making in the D-League. Why did you decide to come back to the states?

Answer: My dream has always been to play in the NBA. I've always felt I could play at the NBA level. If I didn't think I could, I would have just stayed overseas. But I'm 23 and have some years to go in basketball, and I wanted to give it a shot and be seen by NBA teams. It really worked out for me, because right now I've got an opportunity with the Jazz and not many people get this kind of opportunity. I'm enjoying the moment, but at the same time I've got to keep working and do the extra stuff so that they want to keep me around.

5. Question: Sundiata is an unusual name. Who were you named after?

Answer: I'm named after Sundiata (Keita c. 1217-1255), who was the king of Mali. He led his people through a lot of battles and wars. He went through a lot of adversity. Sundiata was a fighter and a leader who competed and he did whatever he had to do for his people.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company