SALT LAKE CITY — When Utah Jazz fans got a sneak peek of the 2012-13 squad at an open scrimmage three weeks ago, DeMarre Carroll made a lasting impression.
Not for hitting outside shots, which he did.
Not for playing energetic defense that annoys the heck out of opponents, which he also did.
The memorable moment happened when Carroll and his trademark dreadlocks flew over the bench in pursuit of a loose ball.
Two words characterize how teammates and Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin summed up the effort displayed in the seemingly meaningless event:
That reputation of being willing to sacrifice his body and outhustle opponents is one Carroll is proud to have. It's also helped him stick with the Jazz after being picked up midway through the 2011-12 season.
The 26-year-old, who's bounced around the NBA from Memphis to Denver to Utah since ending his college career at Missouri in 2009, knows he's not the most physically gifted guy out there.
But that's not about to stop this small forward, who just introduced a line of T-shirts that sport the phrase, "Hard work is a talent."
He thanks his dad for instilling that attitude in him.
"'You might not be the most talented person in the room, but if you work the hardest it will equal out,'" Carroll said, repeating his dad's advice. "I just try to be the hardest working player on the floor."
That's a mantra the Jazz heartily endorse.
It's also been re-emphasized to Carroll by a couple of NBA mentors, including Memphis' gritty Tony Allen and gutsy Jazz guard Earl Watson.
Allen, an NBA All-Defensive first-team wing player, still calls Carroll "my little homie." The no-nonsense Allen took him under his wing and provided critical support when he and the then-rookie weren't getting much playing time.
"I always told him, 'There's always going to be some free time. It's on you to take advantage of it,'" Allen said.
The hard-nosed Allen had been in that situation before. He knew the best way to cope with being benched and told Carroll, "The best way to stay focused when you're not playing is using that time in the gym."
Their friendship became forged, of course, through hard work.
"We had long, late nights getting shots up, playing one-on-one," Allen said. "I'd sit down and talk to him. He'd ask questions."
Allen repeated his personal story of how his old team, the Celtics, brought in Michael Finley, drastically cutting into his playing time.
Allen's approach later became his advice.
"All you got to do is stay ready and you never got to get ready," Allen said. "Once they (Celtics) went another direction with Michael Finley and they came back to me, I was ready. I played the last 13-odd games and all the way until the NBA Finals. We lost the Game 7, but the only way I was able to do that was just being ready."
That's NBA speak for working.
It's a message Allen, now regarded as one of the elite defenders, believes Carroll took to heart.
"That was just my story that I always preached to him and just letting him know, you going to get your opportunity, but it's on you to make the best of it," Allen said prior to a Memphis-Utah game in April. "Looking at him right now, I see he's doing that."
Nothing's changed since then, well, other than the Jazz picking up their team option for this season and Carroll fine-tuning his shot and continuing to fling his body around in practices, scrimmages and games like his job depends on it.
Allen thinks his 6-foot-8 friend might've gotten disheartened in Memphis playing behind up-and-comers Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo. The Grizzlies' guard is convinced his rookie became determined to work harder after that and again after Denver cut him last December.
"He learned from his situation and I'm glad he's blossomed on the other end," Allen said.
He paused slightly and flashed a slight grin in the pregame interview. "With all that said, I'm going to bust his (behind) tonight every chance I get."
Sure enough, the professor's elbow ended up smacking his pupil's tooth into the back of his mouth that night in Memphis. Carroll suffered a mild concussion and required oral surgery to repair the damage.
"It had to be Tony Allen of all people. It's just how he plays. You know that. Physical. Kind of dirty," Carroll said, almost admiringly. "Man, he's wild. But he does what his team needs. He (is) a good dude … got a good heart."
And a wicked elbow.
But Allen is one heckuva mentor when he's on your side.
Now Carroll hopes to continue emulating his style with the Jazz.
"You need those type of guys on every team — guys who will get out there, get dirty and hustle, get them extra possession," Carroll said. "In the end you know it's true, every extra possession you get is good for the team. You've got to know your role and that's my role on this team."
Still, Carroll was given the challenge to work on his outside shot to become "more valuable." Not surprisingly, he spent hours punching the clock in the gym to become a more accurate 3-point threat, hoping to continue finding playing time after filling an important role as a temporary starter during the Jazz's playoff run last spring.
Working his way back into a starting position is a goal. For now, he simply hopes to earn a relevant role behind starting small forward Marvin Williams.
"I've always been a team player and I always will," Carroll said. "I'm one of them guys who's a nitty-gritty guy, a blue-collar guy who's going to grind every day."
Carroll has many more characteristics. He is an antagonizing trash-talker who believes, "Once I get them whining to the ref, I know I'm doing my job." He's physical and relentless on the court, but also appreciative and spiritual off the court.
Both of the Alabama-raised Carroll's parents are ministers. That religious background comes through often when he tweets to fans that he's "Blessed" and encourages them to "Stay Positive." Those attitudes have helped him handle personal challenges, including dealing with a rare liver disease that might eventually require a transplant. He was also once shot in the ankle during a nightclub fight in Columbia, Mo., in college.
"Every day, I pick up the basketball and come out here and play and run up and down the court, and then you've got some people that have no legs and can't even get up out of the bed," Carroll said, reflecting on his spirituality.
"I'm just blessed for every moment … so that's why I just say every day I'm blessed," he added. "I just like to give credit to God because without God I wouldn't be here."
A heaven-bent, humble hard worker with happening hair.
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