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Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Carlos Boozer has led the playoff-bound Jazz in both scoring (20.9 ppg) and rebounding (11.8 per game) this season.

DALLAS — It started when he was a youngun, and the old man made him go to his left.

Not to merely dribble the ball, mind you. Everyone is taught to do that. Not to shoot, necessarily, either. Rather, it was for tasks as critical to starting the day off right as breakfast in the morning.

"My dad," Carlos Boozer said of father Charles, "he had me eat my cereal left-handed — or pick up my fork. Just different things like that."

What may have seemed cruel to a kindergarten kid then feeds the beast that is Boozer now.

The Jazz's starting power forward and leading scorer this season is not truly ambidextrous, and he most certainly is not amphibious, as Charles Barkley might say.

Put a baseball bat in his had, and he'll without hesitation swing right-handed.

It's practically the same for a pen.

"I can write left-handed," he said, "(but) ... it's not as good as my right hand."

Yet Boozer can go with his left from in-close as well as just about any naturally right-handed player in the NBA, and it's a big reason he is able to put up numbers like those he has been doing during his third season in Utah.

"If you can catch the ball eight, 10 feet from the basket and you can go both ways, it makes it really hard for the defense to really stop you," said teammate Derek Fisher, a southpaw himself.

"I think his ability to, first of all, make shots facing the basket sets guys up to have to play close to him. You can't just back off of him," Fisher added. "Then once you step closer to him, his ability to go both ways separates him from a lot of guys. That's why he's so effective on a regular basis."

In fact, David Thorpe — an NBA analyst for ESPN.com — recently rated Boozer as the league's second best at using his "weak hand as a major weapon."

"Around the basket, (David Lee of the New York Knicks) finishes just as effectively with the right or left, to the point where a casual observer would be hard-pressed to name his strong hand. Almost Lee's equal in this respect, Boozer has incredible touch turning or finishing in either direction," wrote Thorpe, who had Boozer listed behind Lee but ahead of Chris Kaman of the Los Angeles Clippers and Ron Artest of the Sacramento Kings. "You cannot force him anywhere but backwards if you hope to slow him down."

And, especially when he's hot, Boozer frequently just keeps on going — no matter what direction he's facing.

Chosen by the newspaper as the Deseret Morning News' Athlete of the Month for March, the Duke University product who was born on an American Army base in Germany and raised chiefly in Juneau, Alaska, is averaging a career-high 20.9 points and career-high 11.8 rebounds per game this season.

Though the playoff-bound Jazz have played abysmally in April and take a five-game losing streak to Dallas tonight, they enjoyed a 9-6 March in which Boozer averaged 20.2 points and 12.2 boards while logging an average of 34.1 minutes over 15 games.

He also used March to register 10 of his 50 double-doubles — a total that had him as one of only four NBA players this season who, heading into last Wednesday's games, had at least 49 double-doubles this season.

Boozer had three particularly monstrous March games, and all came in Jazz victories: 25 points and 21 rebounds against Golden State, 28 points and 15 rebounds against Memphis and, two nights later against Memphis, a career-high 41 points and 16 rebounds (making him one of only two NBA players with at least 40 points and 15 boards in a game this season, along with Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire).

And it's all largely because he can do what many of even the NBA's most-established players cannot.

"I couldn't imagine having the same abilities with both hands some guys in the league (do)," Fisher said. "Jason Kidd comes to mind — guys that, it seems, if you cut one off they can do the same thing with the other hand. It's an amazing gift to have."

"That's what every player should try," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan added. "Some guys have the philosophy that when I get to be good enough with this hand, then I'll start working with the other."

Not Boozer.

Sloan said he recalls Boozer once telling him he developed the with-his-left move because a jammed finger on his right hand made it too painful to shoot.

Such is often the case for the game's best either-hand shooters, including Lee, who broke one of his hands as a teenager, and, most recently, Ohio State University freshman and potential No. 1 overall 2007 NBA Draft choice Greg Oden, who tore wrist ligaments and was forced to go to his off-hand for much of this past college season.

But, Boozer said Thursday, that's actually not the case for him.

He traces the trick back to the breakfast bowl.

"I think my dad was trying to make me be able to not have a weak left hand," Boozer said. "You know, when he was growing up there were so many players he played with, or against, that would never go to the left side of the court, because they weren't comfortable, and he didn't want that for me."

Nor, one can only imagine, did Pops want the young Boozer to ever have any trouble finishing his Cap'n Crunch should anything go wrong with the right.

Jazz on road

Jazz (48-30) at Mavericks (65-13)

Today, 6:30 p.m.

TV: Ch. 14 Radio: 1320AM

Recent Athletes of the Month

November 2006: Josh Rohatinsky, BYU cross country

December 2006: Mehmet Okur, Utah Jazz

January: 2007 Keena Young, BYU basketball

February: 2007 Jaycee Carroll, Utah State basketball

March 2007: Carlos Boozer, Utah Jazz

E-mail: [email protected]