Probably the happiest Jazz player to be heading off on Utah's six-game road trip to the East Coast is reserve forward Ben Handlogten.
And not just because he's coming off a 13-point career-high scoring performance in the Jazz's 100-93 loss to the Sacramento Kings Friday night in the Delta Center.
"Oh, yeah, the first job for me is to get to the East Coast," said Handlogten, whose wife Danielle is "due to pop any minute now. So, just get me out there so that if anything happens, I'm like an hour flight away. In certain situations, if I have to, I can just rent a car and be home in four hours."
Handlogten's wife is living with family in Boston while he is living the tentative life of an NBA rookie a life that got a little more certain over the last week as he's had his two strongest games against perhaps the NBA's two best teams, the Los Angeles Lakers last Sunday and the Kings Friday night. In L.A., Handlogten had eight points and eight rebounds in 12 minutes.
In fact, Handlogten played so well in 13 second-half minutes Friday that Utah coach Jerry Sloan was second-guessing his own decision to take Handlogten out for starter Andrei Kirilenko. "I probably made a tremendous mistake taking Ben out of the game," Sloan said. "He was terrific tonight not being intimidated," something Sloan wouldn't have said about some of the rest of his team.
"Ben gave us a lift. He was a big part of that comeback," said Greg Ostertag. "He probably should have stayed on the court."
Handlogten, who will get more playing time on this road swing because of the injury to Curtis Borchardt at least until he gets the phone call that Danielle is ready, with the due-date Dec. 17 didn't want to touch any controversy about whether he should have played more. "As for substitutions and such, that's not my call. He tells me to go into the game, I give everything I've got."
Handlogten went to the Detroit Pistons' training camp out of Western Michigan but was cut and played with Grand Rapids in the CBA in 1996-97. He played the next seven seasons in Europe.
"Last summer, that itch started coming back, and something in my mind said I've got to do it," he said of his quest to sign as a free agent and make an NBA team. "I just made up my mind that this was what I was going to do this year."
He and Danielle already have two children, and they haven't learned whether this one will be a boy or a girl. "Right now, it's alien. I don't want to know. We did not find out with the first one, and we found out with the second one because we had the second one in Europe. We just kind of enjoy the fact that, when it pops out, 'You got a boy,' 'You got a girl.'
"For us, it's just a little extra excitement not like you need any more," he added, getting back to the realization that he's living a dream come true in the NBA right now.
And doing it rather well. He probably made two of the best plays of the game Friday, rolling to the basket on a pick and roll with Raul Lopez and making a layup over Vlade Divac, who fouled him for a three-point play that got the Jazz to within 75-71, and then being in the middle of a big passing play from Raja Bell to Handlogten to Ostertag for another layup and Divac foul for a three-point play that tied the game at 79.
E-mail: [email protected]