PORTLAND, Ore. — For personal reasons, Jerel McNeal couldn't have been signed to a 10-day contract at a better time.
Sure, getting another chance to impress an NBA team is nice and all.
But this temporary gig also gave McNeal a chance to meet up with his old Marquette buddy, Wesley Matthews.
The current Jazz guard and the former Jazz guard spent Thursday night together in Portland at Matthews' place catching up, eating dinner and, of course, watching the Golden Eagles defeat Miami to advance to the Elite Eight.
McNeal and Matthews played for Marquette together from 2005-09.
"He was like my brother," Matthews said. "We went through a lot of battles together at Marquette. It's good to see him in this light again."
Shortly after saying that, the Portland shooting guard smiled and added some good-natured smack to the interview.
"I hope he gets in," Matthews said of McNeal. "I'm going to try to put him in the rim."
Hearing that made the Jazz guard smile.
"He know better than that," McNeal said. "He ain't dunked it in about a year and a half anyway. It definitely ain't going to happen on me."
Turns out, the fact that McNeal didn't get to dress two days after signing his tryout deal with the Jazz prevented that from happening.
But Matthews, who earned a spot with the Jazz after going undrafted in 2009, believes his old teammate will impress his old team. He thinks they'd make a good match, too.
"Jazz, they know that Marquette guys they produce hard, tough-nosed playing players," Matthews said. "I could see a future with him there. He plays extremely hard. He's talented. Everybody is concerned about size (McNeal's listed at 6-3) and everything, but it's all about the fight in the dog at this level."
Matthews was one of the first people McNeal contacted when he found out earlier this week that he was getting a 10-day contract with Utah. It was an added bonus for the two-time D-League All-Star, who'd been playing for the Bakersfield Jam, that the Jazz face Portland twice during his stint (Friday and Monday).
"Everything just happened so fast. One second you're down there (in the D-League), next second you're up on an NBA roster," McNeal said. "It just so happened that we had not only one but two games (against Portland)."
That, of course, became part of the conversation when McNeal called Matthews to tell him he'd been called up to the NBA for the second time (and first since March 2011 with New Orleans).
"Trash-talking started immediately," McNeal admitted. "I know he'll be a little bit hyped up for this game, too."
MISSING KANTER: Enes Kanter was gone from the team in Portland but certainly not forgotten while he remained in Utah after dislocating his shoulder in Wednesday's game.
The Jazz haven't announced a timetable for Kanter's return.
"Hopefully, it's not as serious or as bad and he can resume play as soon as he can," Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're going to miss him. I miss him today. He's such a good-spirited young fellow. He's good to be around. I know he misses being around his guys."
GETTING BETTER: McNeal was Marquette's team MVP in 2009, and Matthews said he's only gotten better since then. The two work out together in Wisconsin during the offseason.
Matthews likes how McNeal has come along as a point guard in the pros after playing shooting guard in college.
"I know he's developed," Matthews said. "I know his skill for the game and his reads are even better on top of his knack to score the ball and defend."
He thought it was cool that McNeal came to Utah, too.
"He watches the NBA. He followed me my rookie year. He knows how proud the organization is, the history of it," Matthews said of the Jazz. "Tough, hard-nosed guys come out of there (Utah). It's right up his alley."
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org TWITTER: DJJazzyJody
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company