The Utah Jazz training camp gets under way in full Friday morning at Westminster College, and with it comes the business of picking a team.
Ten players - Karl Malone, John Stockton, Thurl Bailey, Mark Eaton, Mike Brown, Jeff Malone, Delaney Rudd, Walter Palmer, Blue Edwards and Darrell Griffith - are virtually untouchable, since all are basically signed to multi-year contracts.That leaves two openings and eight players vying for a chance for fame and wealth in the NBA. The rookies and free agents began working out together on Monday. But once the veterans arrive, the weeding process begins.
"We'll really start to see what these kids can do once the veterans are here," says Jazz Director of Player Personnel Scott Layden.
Here is a look at the contenders for the two spots on the roster:
Alan Bannister, 7-5, 300-pound center: He is big, slow and hasn't played a lot of basketball. Sound familiar? That's what the Jazz thought. Yes, he could be the next Mark Eaton. Bannister started as a freshman at Oklahoma State but transferred to Arkansas State, where he only averaged about 11 minutes a game. But with his size, and the Jazz in no major hurry to find another center, he stands a good chance to be with the Jazz on opening night.
Eric Johnson, 6-2, 205-pound guard: Johnson made the team last year through hard work and a good attitude. This year may be even tougher. A sprained ankle kept him out of the summer league and slowed his progress. But, as assistant coach Dave Fredman points out, "I'd hate to be the guy trying to beat him out of a position."
Johnson played in 48 games, averaging 1.1 points. His biggest asset right now is that he has experience, which counts plenty.
"His experience is invaluable," says Layden. "He plays hard and he's a good defender."
Nate Johnston, 6-8, 210-pound forward: Another player with the advantage of major league experience. Last year he played seven games with Portland, then was released and picked up by the Jazz for six games. After going to the CBA for 10 games, Portland signed him to two 10-day contracts.
Johnston is among the best athletes present; also a good shooter.
Chris Munk, 6-9, 225-pound forward: The Southern Cal product showed well during the summer league, but missed practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday morning of this week while trying to pass the team physical. But by Wednesday night he was suited up.
He led USC in rebounding (8.2) and blocked shots and averaged 8.4 points as a senior. Munk, whose father was born in Denmark, spent two summers playing for the Danish National Team.
He's not a prolific scorer, so if Munk makes the team, it will be due to his rebounding ability.
"Amazing as even the NBA is, there's really a lack of good rebounders," says Layden. "Chris can really go after the ball."
Melvin Newbern, 6-4, 200-pound guard: Projected as a point guard, Newbern has the size, strength and temperment suited to his position. A former University of Minnesota player, Newbern averaged nearly 15 points a game last year. He missed the rookie/free agent camp and summer league in July due to medical reasons.
"He's under control, and for a point guard, he has great size," says Layden.
Mark Tillmon, 6-2, 190-pound guard: Maybe the best athlete of the group. He looks, plays tough, and as a Georgetown product, is a predictably good defender. He's not a great outside shooter or an exceptional ballhandler, but is fearless at driving the lane. Another important plus is that he isn't intimidated by the level of competition. Averaged 19.8 points at Georgetown.
Andy Toolson, 6-6, 210-pound forward: Has impressed the coaches with his toughness and work ethic. As BYU fans know, he is also a fine perimeter shooter. "He's a solid player. He's a tough kid with a great outside shot," says Layden. "There's no down time with this kid."
While Toolson has several key attributes, he plays a position - either off guard or small forward - where the Jazz may not need help.
Brett Vroman, 7-0, 248, center: A long shot. But at age 34 he has a year of NBA experience, and has also played for nine years in Europe, averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds.
"He has a big body and he's not afraid to bang," says Layden. "He has a world of experience."
CAMP NOTES: The team rested on Thursday in preparation for Friday's official camp opening. Practice sessions will be through Oct. 12 at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. All morning sessions are closed to the public ...Backup guard Rudd broke his nose during Wednesday's session and is expected to be out for several days.