SALT LAKE CITY — Diante Garrett, a suddenly familiar name in Utah, didn’t hit an unbelievable 3-point shot to beat LeBron James’ team. He didn’t end up celebrating on the scorer’s table at EnergySolutions Arena, either.
He hasn’t quite reached Sundiata Gaines status as a D-League call-up legend.
But the 25-year-old made one heck of a first impression with the Utah Jazz and fans Wednesday night in the team's 111-105 victory over New Orleans.
“I’m shocked,” Jazz center Enes Kanter admitted. “He came (Tuesday), and then he played (Wednesday). He played unbelievable. I appreciate him. He stepped up big time and played big.”
And he did it only hours after signing with the Jazz.
Not long after telling media about how he learned of his new opportunity while shopping at Wal-Mart late Monday night, Garrett scored seven points, had five assists and played a key role in Utah’s first win of the 2013-14 season.
“I was happy all night (Wednesday) night,” Garrett said, smiling before Thursday’s practice. “I won’t forget it.”
Neither will his new team and fans.
“Everybody in this locker room knew what he was capable of doing,” Jazz small forward Marvin Williams said. “He really stepped up. He was a monster (Wednesday). He was huge.”
Williams benefited from one of Garrett’s best plays, which, incidentally, came after a careless turnover by the Jazz newcomer.
With Utah up by one, Garrett found himself open from mid-range on the baseline in front of his team’s bench. Instead of taking a short shot, Garrett dished it out to a wide-open Williams, who was perched behind the 3-point line on the opposite side of the court.
Williams, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds in his best game this season, swished the deep shot to give the Jazz a more comfortable 104-100 lead with 1:22 remaining.
“I remembered that he just hit one, too. Two plays, ago, he just hit a 3,” Garrett recalled. “I got to the right position, about to shoot it and I seen him in the corner of my eye (and thought), ‘He’s wide open. I should pass it to him.’ And he knocked it down for me.”
Garrett was mobbed by meida in the locker room. In fact, the press throng was so big that rookie Ian Clark had to wait in a towel before he was able to get back to his locker to dry off and get dressed.
Garrett then stayed up late, celebrating his NBA return on the phone with his parents in Milwaukee.
“They were excited,” Garrett said. “It made me more excited.”
The 25-year-old laughed when sharing part of the conversation with his parents.
“My mom was very excited," he said. "She couldn’t stop yelling, ‘Good job, baby!’”
And, yes, he enthusiastically imitated her higher-pitched voice while saying that as his teammates warmed up for practice on the court several feet away.
Next up for his parents?
Buying the NBA League Pass, so they can watch the Jazz’s new backup point guard.
"I’m pretty sure they’ll get it soon," he said. "Probably today or tomorrow."
The Jazz play again Friday night at home against the San Antonio Spurs and then again Saturday at Golden State, so hopefully it's set up in time for the weekend's games.
This is the second stint in the league for Garrett, who played in 19 games with the Phoenix Suns during the 2012-13 season. He was one of the final cuts at Oklahoma City just before this season started in late October.
Though he had “some good moments there in Phoenix,” Garrett admitted Wednesday’s story will make it into “the history books” for his personal accomplishments.
It was also a proud moment for his father, Dick Garrett, who played in the NBA from 1969-74. The elder Garrett was named to the All-Rookie team after being picked 27th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. His career, which also included time with the Buffalo Braves and New York Knicks, concluded in Milwaukee, where Diante grew up.
The younger Garrett, who’s also played in Croatia, France and with the Bakersfield Jam, said he’s gotten good advice from his dad as he’s tried to find a permanent spot in the NBA.
“He was just telling me keep my head up and to keep working,” Garrett said. “He always told me, ‘You can get beat, but don’t get outworked.’ I take that to heart.”
Garrett was hired by the Jazz to bolster the point guard depth chart after fellow Iowa State product Jamaal Tinsley was cut. Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said the team likes Garrett's speed and 6-4 size, one of the many things the team has lacked at the playmaker position this season. (Garrett, by the way, already has as many assists in one game as any of Utah's point guards this season.)
With rookie Trey Burke still sidelined with his broken finger and starter John Lucas III struggling so far, Garrett got a surprising amount of time during his first day on the job. He played 22 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter, after Lucas was benched following his 0-for-7 first half.
Garrett’s knowledge of the offense was very limited — three or four plays, he said — but he made good passes and smart basketball plays for the most part even when he occasionally ended up on the wrong side of the court.
Corbin liked how Garrett pushed the ball up court, relieving Gordon Hayward from some ballhandling duties, and how he created shots for teammates. Garrett assisted power forward Derrick Favors on a game-clinching layup with 24.2 seconds remaining.
“He was able to space the floor because of the way he attacked on the pick-and-roll,” Corbin said. “It was good on a lot of fronts for us.”
Corbin smiled admitting he called a few plays Garrett didn’t know, but the coaching staff and players talked him through it, impressively as action continued. On one possession, Garrett even ran the right “auto” play, feeding Hayward the ball for a post-up, just using his own basketball instinct.
“It was a great feeling for us to see him be able to pick things up on the fly like that and help us execute,” Corbin said. “He was astute enough to be able to handle the ball, get into the spot and make the play from there.”
Burke is making progress and can now dribble without pain in his surgically repaired right index finger, but he won’t be re-evaluated until a week from Monday. With Lucas’ ongoing struggles, the opportunity is there for Garrett to continue to get minutes and contribute.
Garrett worked hard after being cut by the Thunder and while preparing for the upcoming D-League season on “just being ready when they called me.” After getting that call from his agent while he shopped for groceries Monday night, Garrett checked out the NBA standings to see exactly where the Jazz were.
He laughed while saying, “When I looked at the record, I’m like, ‘Oh and 8. I guess I got to go turn it around.’”
As it stands, the Utah Jazz are now 1-0 in the Diante Garrett Era.
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