Thursday's opening session of the Utah Jazz rookie/free agent camp didn't offer any surprises for Paul Afeaki.
"It was just about what I expected it would be," said Afeaki, the former Ute center who is among 18 players vying to make the Jazz's roster this week at Westminster College. "Bigger guys, stronger, faster. It's something."Afeaki knows that he is, like the other newcomers in this camp, a longshot to make the team, so he's set his sights relatively low: He just wants to be among the group selected to represent the Jazz in the Rocky Mountain Revue summer league that starts Monday.
To stay in shape, he's been playing three days a week at South High, going body to body with Isaac Austin. Despite giving away 65 pounds to the one-year Jazz veteran, Afeaki said he's held his own.
"We have our ups and downs," he said. "Some days I'm up and he's down, some days it's the other way around."
If he doesn't survive this camp, Afeaki said his basketball career may be over. He's had a few feelers from European teams that are always looking for big men, but he said he's leaning more toward staying in Salt Lake City and starting a career in law enforcement.
For now, though, the 6-10 Tongan will try to impress the coaches despite being slowed by ankle ligaments torn in a pre-draft camp in Chicago. He says he can't jump and is a step slow but tries to ignore the pain.
"I'm just going to go out and do my best," he said. "That's all I can do."
BULKED UP: And speaking of Austin's bulk, did we mention that he weighed in Wednesday at 290? The pre-camp roster sent out by the team listed him at 255, and coach Jerry Sloan acknowledged he was disappointed at the young center's girth.
"His body will not hold up if he has to play every night at 290," Sloan said.
Another veteran of one year showed up at camp with more weight, but in this case it looked good. Guard Corey Crowder weighed in at a buffed-out 224, 10 pounds over his previous playing weight, and it appeared that he'd put it on in the weight room.
Still, Sloan wants to be convinced that Crowder can handle the added pounds. "He's got a great body and worked hard on it," Sloan said. "He's got to be able to play with that."
LATE ARRIVALS: There was a slight shortage of big men Thursday because three players were attending other camps and expected to make later appearances. They are Greg Dennis, 6-11 center from East Tennessee State; Donald Royal, 6-8 forward from Notre Dame, the Spurs and Timberwolves; and Jim Havrilla, 6-10 center from Western Michigan.
UP FOR GRABS: It can be safely assumed that Austin, Crowder and the other returnee, David Benoit, will make the summer league team, but after that Sloan isn't offering any assurances.
"I don't see any guarantees out there for anybody," he said. "Sometimes when guys start feeling good about themselves, especially young guys, they come in here and forget to compete."
Sloan said that one goal for the summer league will be to see if the "veterans" can play for prolonged periods. "We've got to play some guys a lot of minutes," he said. "We've got to see if they can play a lot of minutes.
"For the other guys, we need to see if they can play on this team."