Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Rookie forward Paul Millsap has impressed the Utah Jazz in his short time with the team.

SEATTLE — He did not just play, but starred, at Louisiana Tech — and still got little respect in the NBA Draft. He has a nose for the ball, and an ever-evolving game. He says if he weren't in the league, he would be working in law enforcement.

Sound familiar?

Paul Millsap, make no mistake, is no Karl Malone.

Check back for that in another 1,426 games, 14,571 rebounds and 36,339 points.

Or so.

But the second of the Jazz's two 2006 second-round draft picks is making something of a name for himself eight games into his fledgling NBA career, and so far it's even better than advertised.

When they selected the 6-foot-8, 255-pounder No. 47 overall out of Malone's old school in last June's draft, the chatter from Jazz scouts was that hopefully he can turn into a slightly better version of similarly undersized Malik Rose — a serviceable 11-year veteran and current New York Knick who at his peak with San Antonio in 2002-03 averaged 6.4 rebounds and 10.4 points per game.

Now, some suggest that may be selling Millsap a bit short.

"I think he's a little more talented than that," said Jazz assistant coach Tyrone Corbin, who played 16 years.

"If he continues to show what he can do, and understands the game, and learns how to adjust his game, and he keeps that knack for getting to the ball," Corbin added, "he'll do a lot better."

For that, 21-year-old Millsap has three brothers — one who is trying to forge a pro career of his own, one who is embarking on a college career and another who conveniently has landed in the lap of Brighton High School — and a rather hard-driving uncle to thank.

Though a Louisiana native, Millsap spent his formative years in Denver. Football was his game. In fact, he was just starting to make a name in junior-high circles there — as a quarterback, of all things — when single-mom Bettye Millsap decided to leave lousy surroundings and move the boys back home to the comfort of kin.

There, Millsap's uncle — Bettye's brother, DeAngelo Simmons — awaited with a message and a mission.

The message: "I told him, 'Look, around here, we play basketball,' " said Simmons, who now doubles as Millsap's agent. The mission, according to Simmons: "She (Bettye) said, 'I want my kids to go college and get an education. Can you teach them to play basketball?' "

Simmons, a GM plant employee at the time who played basketball at Tyler Junior College in Texas and briefly at Southern University, eagerly accepted the assignment.

"My goal," he said, "was to make sure the four boys were taken care of."

For hours on end, starting with John and Paul and eventually younger brothers Elijah and Abraham too — the Biblical names no mere coincidence — he drilled the game into each of Bettye's sons.

"Every day we worked out, and after that we played 1-on-1," Paul Millsap said. "I had little brothers that would come in and play too — they wanted to beat the older brothers, so it was always a competition for us. Every day was ... trying to beat each other."

Still is, when they get together.

"It's a battle — my uncle just sits back and watches us go at it," Paul added. "He made us who we are, really — he taught us to always go all-out every time you're on the floor, so that's what we try to do."

Based on Paul's play early on, it's done with success.

"They compete hard at each other ... They don't give each other nothing," Simmons said. "It was a joy watching them go at it. As they got skills, and got longer and taller, it was just a joy watching them become players — because they were special players. All of them had different skills, different abilities."

Paul's was seeking out the ball, and it's not gone without notice in Utah.

"Paul has a greater ability to get outside of himself and rebound the ball," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. "Some guys can only rebound above themselves. He has an ability to get out away from himself, and go get basketball."

"It's ingrained in his mind that when the ball's in the air, it's his ball, and he's just gonna get it," Corbin added. "Some guys have that intuition — that 'Every loose ball, every rebound, every chance I get, I'm gonna get my hands on the ball.' You understand that 'I don't have to wait for it to come to me; I can go get it.' "

Paul, for his part, says he has no idea when or where his nose for the ball grew — only that it did, and continues to.

"When I got out of high school," he said, "it was the one thing that stood me out against my teammates — so I continued to do that.

"Sometimes it just comes to me, sometimes I go after it."

Simmons, however, knows where it came from — and doesn't necessarily buy the he-was-born-with-it theory. After all, Paul did not even play the game formally until he was a 10th-grader at Grambling High in Grambling, La.

Instead, Simmons calls it "learned behavior" — honed by hours and hours of boardwork and tip drills over the course of seven years, including a full year prior to Paul's sophomore year in high school in which he didn't even play organized ball.

"He got to a point where he gained his niche doing something good," Simmons said, "and he was smart enough to stick with it.

"When he got to college, he realized, 'I can become something special in rebounding. OK, I can do this ... I don't care about who shoots the ball as long as I'm out here playing.' "

The end result: Millsap led the nation in rebounding during three consecutive college seasons, something no other player in NCAA Division I history has done.

Brother John, two years older, wound up at Texas-San Antonio. He spent part of last season playing overseas in Serbia, and — though his game may not be NBA-quality — continues to look for work. He had a tryout last weekend with the CBA's new Utah Eagles franchise, and hopes to catch on with a team in either that minor league or the NBA Development League. If not, he may return overseas.

"He and Paul would go at it tit-for-tat," Simmons said. "John just hasn't had a shot, hasn't had a break."

Brother No. 3, Elijah, is a freshman this season at Louisiana-Lafayette.

"Right now," Simmons said, "we're 3-for-4 as far as college scholarships."

The youngest, Abraham — a prospect who Simmons says can play "all positions" — is a 6-3 junior recently enrolled at Brighton.

"He's a good kid, works hard ... The kids at Brighton, they've taken a liking to him," Simmons said. "He didn't want to leave his friends (in Louisiana) ... but once everything was like, 'You have no choice,' he kind of understood.

"His mother wanted a change of environment, to get him settled and on right track."

For now, then, John, Abraham, Simmons and mother Bettye all are living in Utah with Paul — who has two young daughters of his own, Xylah and Pyonna.

When the Jazz drafted Millsap, they weren't quite sure what they were getting.

It wasn't long into summer-league, however, before they realized what they had — and eagerly negotiated, through Simmons, a two-year guaranteed contract that carries a team option for a third season.

"He just plays basketball," Sloan said. "He's really kind of unique, very quiet, doesn't ask a lot of questions, listens very well. He has done that from Day 1, and we all have been very impressed with that."

By the end of training camp in October, Sloan realized Millsap both deserved playing time and could help — something not typically the case for rookies in Utah, let alone second-rounders so soon.

"He quietly does a lot of things," the Jazz coach said last month. "He's gonna warrant some other opportunities, as you move forward."

It's happened, too.

Through eight games, Millsap has averaged 14-plus minutes — with a high of 27 — along with 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds. He's been matched against everyone from big men to small forwards, played at the end of close games, drawn praise from opposing coaches and impressed teammates and Jazz coaches with his versatility.

"Paul has been terrific ... He's been out on the floor trying to guard 3 men, and he's 6-8 and 255 pounds. And he's a rookie on top of that," Sloan said. "He can make shots when he's open. In practice, he shoots the ball pretty well around 16, 18 foot ... He has terrific hands, unbelievable hands. And he doesn't get flustered real easily for a young man."

On top of it all, Millsap seems quite humble.

After a four-block, four-steal game against the Los Angeles Clippers last Tuesday, he responded to questions as if they didn't even need to be asked.

"Coach says if you work hard you're gonna get minutes," he said, "so that's what I'm trying to do

"This," Millsap added matter-of-factly, "is what I was brought to the team to do — all the extra things, get the loose balls, deflections, rebounds, things like that — and I want to do the best I can to get that."

Still, one lingering question remains: Just who can Millsap be?

At this point, Jazz coaches don't seem to care.

"You lead the nation in rebounding for three years, there is something special about you," Corbin said. "I think he'll create his own identity sooner or later."

"You can compare him to anybody that's rebounded in the past," Sloan added. "I mean, he has his own unique ability to go after the ball."

Still — with their schools the same, their size similar and their persona not all that different — some will be tempted to make the inevitable connection to future hall-of-famer Malone.

Corbin, for one, doesn't see that as a hindrance.

"I think it helps him a little bit because expectations are high," he said, "and I think he'll live up to them because he'll work to be better. And ... I think he has the ability to be the player he wants to be."

Simmons — the uncle, the agent and, based on how he jumps out of his Delta Center seat, the super-fan — doesn't shy from such talk, either.

"I think it's a positive," he said, "because if he hears it, it inspires him to work harder and reach that level that Karl Malone did. It makes him feel, 'I can achieve.'

"I hate to compare him to other ball players, but I still say he will be up there in the range of close to a Karl Malone, if not better; close to Charles Barkley, if not better; close to Ben Wallace, if not better."