He wasn't always the best, nor the tallest, nor was he always interested in basketball. But, when he got better, grew taller and got the spark, Jeff Judkins went on to become one of the finest basketball players Utah has ever claimed.
The graduate of Highland High and the University of Utah didn't end his career until he'd played five years in the pros against the likes of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Karl Malone.Recognizing his commitment to sports, the Utah Old Time Athletes Association will induct Judkins and three others into the Utah Sports Hall of Fame on Thursday.
The hoop, however, was not always Judkins' target. At age 9 it was baseball. At 12 it was football. As quarterback, he led his little league team to two consecutive Ute Conference championships. Basketball, to this point, was a pastime.
At 14, it became evident that his body was better suited for the shooting game. He got his height, his reach and a good outside shot.
"And," he recalled, "I found I started to enjoy basketball more. I was getting tired of being beaten up in football. Basketball was easier on the body."
Basketball started for him through a program run by the Utah National Guard. His goal then was to play for Highland High . . . and he did. Four years. (He was recently inducted into the Highland High Hall of Fame.)
His goal then became to play for a college. He chose the University of Utah.
Because . . . "I wanted to play close to home. Also, I saw some of the players that were on the team and felt I could play well with them," he recalled.
His goal then became to play in the pros. A dream of many players, but stark reality is few ever make it. Judkins was the 30th player drafted in 1978 and the second taken by the Boston Celtics. Larry Bird was the first, but he opted to spend one last year in school. His first year he was picked second team All-Rookie in the NBA.
There were, of course, many more recognitions over the course of his playing career.
At Highland, he was named first team All-State in basketball and All-Region in football and lettered in basketball, football and baseball.
At the University of Utah he was named All-America his junior and senior years, was All-WAC three years, District 7 first team three years, helped Utah win the WAC title his junior year and place second his sophomore and senior years, was named MVP in the Tennessee Invitational and is currently fourth on the Utes' all-time scoring list.
He went on to play, along with Bird, on the U.S. Team in the World Games that won the gold medal, beating a team from the USSR in the finals.
In the pros he played two years for Boston, then came to Utah by way of Dallas in an expansion draft. He played one year for Utah, then one for Detroit, then finished his career with Portland.
Consensus is that given a basketball report card, it would read something like this: A smart player, above average shooter, moves well with and without the ball and is a good defender.
After finishing his playing career, he returned to Utah to enter business. Last year he joined the staff of Utah basketball coach Rick Majerus as an assistant coach.