Morris Almond has said all the right things to make Utahns fall in love with him to make his new employer feel good about taking him with the 25th pick in Thursday's NBA Draft.
Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller was impressed after meeting him Friday that the slender 6-foot-6 sharpshooter from Rice seems confident but humble ("not artificially" humble) and readily repeats how happy he is to be a Jazzman.
"You have to hope he means it," said Miller, who joyfully elbowed senior VP of basketball operations Kevin O'Connor Thursday when Phoenix didn't take Almond with its No. 24 pick Thursday. "I think he's got a chance to be something special."
Well, maybe all Almond has said the past 10 days, since his June 19 pre-draft Utah workout, about how the Jazz play the right way and how it's a perfect fit for him, are actually how he does feel.
Maybe he really is a straight shooter off the court, too.
His agent, Lon Babby, said that while Almond was in Washington, D.C., to work out for the Wizards, he visited Babby. "He showed up in my office about 10 days ago wearing a Utah Jazz T-shirt.
"I said, 'Are you trying to send a message?'
"And he said, 'You know, I just felt very comfortable there.'"
"You never know whether it's going to work out that way, but it seems like a marriage made in heaven," Babby added Friday afternoon at the Zion's Bank Basketball Center, where Almond was introduced to the media.
Babby also said Almond, a self-described "Army brat" from Atlanta, was pleased to see the main sports-page headlines, "Almond joy," and big stories about him in Friday's Utah papers. "He's not like a lot of players I represent that come from environments where they're used to this. He sort of still relishes seeing his name in the newspaper and being on TV. He meant it when he said, 'They knew who I was?'"
Almond was surprised at the EnergySolutions Arena ovation when the Jazz announced they'd picked him, surprised fans knew of Rice or himself. "Icing on the cake," he said. "Just to start on a good foot makes me really want to prove my worth and make everybody feel they were justified in choosing me."
When asked about the recent poll of NBA players that picked Utah as the worst place to be, Almond said, "They do them, and I'll do me. I'm more than happy to be here. I know the system fits me well, and I've said it over and over, I think this is just the absolute best fit for me."
As he talked, someone from the Jazz put an official Utah draft-day cap on his head. He flinched, not certain if it was proper or on straight. Told it was NBA policy, he said, "Oh, as long as it's procedure, I'll do it."
And coach Jerry Sloan wasn't even standing over him.
He's admittedly "low-key," even to the point he said if the Jazz send him to Orem of the NBDL, "I can't say it would be a disappointment. They know what they're doing here. They're the professionals. I'm the amateur making the jump, so just whatever they ask me to do."
But he has the backbone of a true marksman, too. "I'm confident in my abilities. Wherever I end up, it will all work out for the best eventually."
Almond has admired the Jazz. "Just the way they play, on and off the floor," he said. "Sound fundamentals. Not a lot of one-on-one, not a lot of off-the-court, extracurricular you know, you don't hear about that in Utah. That's probably the biggest thing. They value just what's good and pure about the game, and I've always noticed that watching them as a kid, and I try to pattern myself after that."
He attended the Jazz playoff games in Houston and not necessarily to root for the Rockets. "I'm not from Houston, I just went to school down there," he said.
He looks forward to playing with Deron Williams and says he'll do whatever Williams wants. He anticipates those open shots Williams and other Jazzmen can create for a wing man who will wear No. 22 because he was born on the second day of the second month but doesn't have any real attachment to the number.
"I was never a guy that had to dominate the ball," he said, though he was the NCAA's No. 3 scorer at 26.4 points a game and was Conference-USA Player of the Year. "I like to say I play within the offense.
"Here, I think I'll flourish even more playing off established players, for players like Carlos Boozer I'll take that any day."
As much as the jump shot and personality appeal, O'Connor was perhaps even more impressed that Almond twice in college made tough but proper decisions. Almond's first two years were not noteworthy; he averaged 4.8 and 7.2 points. He made himself better instead of going elsewhere. His decision last year to return to Rice after pondering early entry in the NBA Draft was also a good one to O'Connor, who takes those choices to mean that when things get tough, Almond makes the right decisions.
Almond said O'Connor's straight talk to him last year influenced him. O'Connor told him to ask teams looking at him if they'd use their first-round pick on him. None would, including the Jazz, who were willing to use one of their two 2006 second-rounders on him. He went back to be a senior. Both choices bettered him. However, he didn't ask O'Connor this year if the Jazz would use No. 25 on him. "I didn't say it out front I'm not that bold yet," he said, laughing.