Although there were good reasons for Chris Munk and Andy Toolson not to make the Utah Jazz opening-day roster, each had something the league is very big on: shooting and rebounding.
Toolson, a former BYU star, admits to lacking speed and athletic ability. But he made the final cut on Friday, largely because of his outside shooting and a solid mastery of fundamentals. "As great as the NBA is, you can count on two hands the number of great shooters in the league," said Jazz Director of Player Personnel Scott Layden last summer.Munk, who has never been accused of being an offensive threat, is an impressive rebounder. He went up against Karl Malone during October prac
tice and avoided being beaten to a pulp. He played against Philadelphia's Rick Mahorn and Charles Barkley and lived to tell. Said Layden, "Rebounding and toughness are a rare commodity in the NBA, and Chris has some of both."
Friday morning the Jazz finalized their opening-day roster by waiving Georgetown rookie Mark Tillmon. That left Toolson and Munk as the last two players on the roster. Guard Eric Johnson and center Alan Bannister will start the year on injured reserve.
"The decision (to keep Munk and Toolson) was based on what we saw in their games and practices. They did maybe a little better at their positions than Mark (Tillmon) did," said Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan. "But it's always tough to cut a player. Tillmon played his rear off and so did Chris and Andy. Our decision came down to those two guys."
Munk, a 6-foot-9, 225-pound power forward from Southern Cal, arrived for rookie/free agent camp in July. That began a long run of practices and
games, in which Munk often appeared to be Sloan's favorite target. Whenever practice was stopped, odds were strong it had something to do with Munk. "It never discouraged me," said Munk. "I believe he (Sloan) is a sincere type of fellow and he was just trying to make me better. That's what he told me."
It was obvious from the start Munk could rebound. He pulled down 13 rebounds in one game against Portland during the summer league, and finished sixth in the overall rebounding stats with an 8.0 rebounding average.
When fall came, he sometimes ended up in the wrong place, but never backed away from the physical aspects, taking Malone's punishment without complaint. "I didn't try to bang with him flagrantly," said Munk. "But with a guy like Karl, you have to show you're not going to back down. My style is to create the action and that's his style, too."
Munk's making the Jazz seemed to vindicate him of at least part of the criticism he endured in college. A product of San Francisco's Riordan High, Munk was regarded as an exceptional prospect. But some observers said he never lived up to his billing.
As a senior at USC Munk led the team in rebounding (8.2) and blocks , but only averaged 8.4 points a game.
Munk says the college game kept him from developing as he wanted. "I felt sort of restricted," he said. "My style is all-out. In college - and I'm not criticizing the referees - they didn't let you do much of that. The NBA is geared much more towards my assets. I can play a lot harder without fouls. In college I restrained myself and it threw off my game."
The addition of Munk takes care of the loss of Ray Brown, who left during the summer to play in Europe. Munk moves into a spot as a backup power forward to Malone.
Toolson, an off-guard, said he went through the summer and fall with one objective: giving it his best shot. "I came into rookie camp not knowing what my chances were," said Toolson. "I was just going to give it all I had and feel good, regardless."
After a lackluster summer performance - he made only 12 of 40 field goal attempts - Toolson's chances to make the team appeared unlikely. But injuries to Eric Johnson and Alan Bannister, and good play in the exhibition games kept him going. Toolson came back to play well in practice and made 8 of 14 field goal attempts, including two of three from three-point range, in exhibition games.
Toolson is quick to admit that luck, as well as ability, played a hand in his making the team. "I feel very fortunate. I realize you have to be in the right place at the right time. But at this point I just want to fit in."
Jazz notes: Guard Delaney Rudd, who has already broken his nose this fall, went down again at Friday's practice with a sprained shoulder. He is listed as questionable to play in Sunday's exhibition game against Detroit. Eric Johnson's injured left foot has been diagnosed as a strain or partial tear of the plantar fascia, and is expected to be out three weeks. Center Alan Bannister had surgery Oct. 17 to repair a laterial meniscal tear in his left knee. He will be out three months.