With only 10 days to go until the season opener, former BYU star Andy Toolson continues to beat the odds. What began with 14 players at the Jazz's summer rookie/free agent camp is now just a handful.
Although Toolson isn't the typical NBA prospect, he has one thing NBA teams covet: shooting ability. When he left BYU after last season, he was the school's career and single season leader in three-point percentage, attempts and attempts made.Toolson and the rest of the Jazz are in Las Vegas tonight for an 8:30 MDT game against Philadephia. Utah is 0-4 in exhibition play, while Philadelphia is 2-2.
For most of the summer and fall it appeared Toolson wasn't a good bet to make the team. He was slower than most and played a position (off guard) where the Jazz already had Jeff Malone, Darrell Griffith and Blue Edwards available for duty.
During the rookie camp and summer league he shot poorly. His fit-for-framing jump shot had gone the way of 99-cent gas. "I came into (fall) camp, and I knew I could shoot better than I did in rookie camp," said Toolson. "I don't know what the deal was there."
Recently, Toolson's shot returned. In four preseason games he is 8-14 from the floor including 2-3 on three-pointers.
Perhaps as important has been the attrition rate among contenders. Center Alan Bannister, believed to be a certainty to grab one of the two available spots on the team, fell victim to knee surgery and will probably be put on injured reserve to start the year. Then three of the eight rookies/free agents were waived. On Monday it was learned that the foot injury to second-year Jazzman Eric Johnson isn't a bruise but a tendon problem. If Johnson goes on the injured reserve list, that leaves Toolson, USC forward Chris Munk and Georgetown's Mark Tillmon fighting for two available spots.
Toolson has other skills that have helped him keep pace. He knows the Jazz offense well by now, rarely makes mistakes and seldom is in the wrong place. And, as the Jazz coaches are quick to point out, he can do most things adeptly, whether it be defense or rebounding or ballhandling. "I think one of the key parts is to try to play smart and not commit turnovers, because athletically I know there will be guys that are a lot better than I am," Toolson said.
Having seen some of those better athletes when the Jazz met Boston last weekend, he now gets two more opportunities. The Jazz and Sixers follow Tuesday's game in Las Vegas with a Wednesday game in the Salt Palace (7:30 p.m.). Both will be aired live on KISN-AM (570).
The Sixers come into the game having lost to Houston (103-99) and Charlotte (118-111) and beaten Minnesota (102-96) and New York (115-96). Star forward Charles Barkley is coming off last year's shoulder surgery and appears to be playing at 100 percent, scoring 30 points against Minnesota. The Sixers are also optimistic about the addition of center Manute Bol during the of-season. He blocked 10 shots against the Timberwolves.
Pregame notes: Tonight's contest is expected to be the debut for center Mike Gminski and rookie Brian Oliver, both having previously been injured.
For the Jazz, Sloan said he is thinking about starting Blue Edwards at guard this year with Thurl Bailey playing the sixth man.