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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah Jazz intern Logan Millard records the franchise's choice of Ohio State center Kostas Koufos in the first round (23rd overall) of Thursday's NBA draft.

There were no red flags, no reasons Kevin O'Connor was aware of which would explain why Kosta Koufos landed into the Jazz's lap.

"I can't answer that one — why he dropped to us," O'Connor said.

But he did, and Utah was more than happy to scoop up the free-falling Koufos, nabbing the 7-foot, 265-pound Ohio State center with its No. 23 overall selection in the first round of Thursday's NBA Draft.

"We're very, very, very excited about the player we got," O'Connor said, "because we got a big player that's skilled enough to defend."

But the Jazz's general manager readily admitted that the 19-year-old — he doesn't turn 20 until next February — is not the shot-blocking center that Utah and so many other teams in the league covet.

In fact, shooting is his forte — and Koufos' best-case NBA comparison from both NBADraft.net and DraftExpress.com is to 2007 Jazz All-Star center Mehmet Okur.

"Look," O'Connor said, "if there was a defensive stopper in the middle, we would have drafted him.

"Is he a shot-blocker? No. But is he somebody who's big enough to take up space and maybe be a disruptor a little bit? That's our goal with him."

Koufos, O'Connor added, needs to gain strength — but already has an NBA build.

"We don't have to put a body on him," the Jazz GM said. "He already has one."

But is his game NBA-ready?

Even Koufos, who has a supposedly silky shot with range to at least 18 feet, doesn't seem sure.

"We'll just see how things go," he said via teleconference from his hometown of Canton, Ohio.

As for the Okur comparison, O'Connor didn't shoot it down.

"He's got some of the same skills as Memo," he said. "I think he can pass the ball a little bit, he can shoot it a little bit, and he seems to know how to get open."

And, O'Connor added, "He's actually a little bit bigger than Memo."

The Jazz also took two European players in the second round, 7-foot-2 Croatian center Ante Tomic at No. 44 overall, and 6-9 Serbian forward Tadija Dragicevic.

Neither, however, will be brought to Utah for another year or two or more.

But Koufos — who holds dual Greek-United States citizenship, and played brilliantly last summer for Greece's 18-and-under national team — is Ohio-born and raised.

A red-blooded McDonald's All-American.

And while he could make plenty of Euros playing in Greece, he has no plans to sign over there.

"NBA is the main priority for me," said Koufos, who averaged 14.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 37 games for the NIT-champion Buckeyes.

Koufos was pegged as a potential late lottery pick by some draft-centric Internet sites, and O'Connor thought New Jersey might have taken him at No. 10.

But the Nets instead went with Stanford center Brook Lopez.

And as others went one-by-one, Koufos — MVP of this year's postseason NIT — waited with patience.

"I was just cool, calm, the whole way through," he said.

Soon, the pool of potential Jazz picks had dwindled to a few.

Rider power forward Jason Thompson went surprisingly early, to Sacramento at No. 12, and the Jazz's apparent pre-draft favorite big man, 7-foot-2 Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, was taken 17th by Toronto with a pick that is expected to be moved to Indiana as part of a previously agreed-upon trade sending longtime Pacers big man Jermaine O'Neal to the Raptors.

Additional Jazz possibilities gone before Utah selected at 23 were Kansas shooting guard Brandon Rush (who went 13th), Stanford big man Robin Lopez (15th), Florida power forward Marresse Speights (16th), Nevada big JaVale McGee (18th), French center Alexis Ajinca (20th), California power forward Ryan Anderson (21st) and Western Kentucky shooting guard Courtney Lee (22nd).

When their turn to pick arrived, others still on the board included not only Koufos, but also 18-year-old Congo native Serge Ibaka (who went with the next pick to Seattle), Kansas forward Darrell Arthur (taken 27th) and Indiana forward D.J. White (29th).

Each of the aforementioned was scouted closely by the Jazz, and/or came to Utah for a personal workout.

Koufos did not, though O'Connor did watch him play in late November against North Carolina — a disastrous 4-point, 1-of-10 from-the-field game, as it happened.

Still, O'Connor knew Koufos was better than that — and didn't blink when his agent wouldn't have him come to Utah for an up-close look.

"He didn't come in and work out," O'Connor said, "but I couldn't blame him — because I really thought, with everything I'd been hearing, that he'd be gone before us."

When he was still there, the Jazz grabbed a player tagged with the same word by two ESPN television analysts, Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale: "potential."

"We got a player we think eventually can really help us," O'Connor said.

Emphasis was on "eventually."

Still, the terrifically polite Koufos is anxious to get started — calling his drop to the Jazz a "blessing" over which he has absolutely no regrets.

"With Mr. Williams (Deron Williams) at the point guard, and Mehmet Okur — they've got a very versatile team," he said. "And winning 50-plus games this season, they've got a great team coming back — and I feel like I can help."


E-mail: tbuckley@desnews.com