During his first-ever visit to Utah, which came a day after being drafted in the first round by the Jazz, Kosta Koufos was impressed by his future home's "beautiful" scenery, the cleanliness and the friendliness.
(And, yes, he was referring to Salt Lake City, and not Orem, where he potentially could end up with the D-League's Utah Flash.)
Greece native Kathy Koufos, the 19-year-old's mom, also "loved it" from what she learned about the "family-oriented community," to her son's new basketball organization, even down to how Salt Lake City has two Greek churches.
One can only imagine how excited these dual citizenship Greek Americans from Canton, Ohio, will be when they find out the area also has Mad Greek and Greek Souvlaki restaurants.
"I'm just very blessed and fortunate to be here," said the 7-foot center, who spurned offers to play pro ball in Greece and was picked 23rd overall after his freshman season at Ohio State, while meeting Friday with media at the Zions Bank Basketball Center.
In other words, Utah made a good first impression on the Koufos family.
The feeling, Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor inferred, is mutual.
The Jazz were thrilled the big man, who has offensive skills inside and outside, fell all the way to them when they figured he'd be snatched up earlier in the first round. So, yes, they're geeked about their Greek.
"We're very, very happy to have a player that we think will contribute to the Utah Jazz," O'Connor said, "(and) also a person that we feel will be a credit not only to himself and to his family but also to the Utah Jazz and the state of Utah."
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan wasn't at the press conference, but he met with Koufos earlier in the day and also made a lasting impression on his incoming rookie. Sloan, who's coached the Jazz longer (20 years) than Koufos has been alive, warned his newest player that the NBA was a "faster-paced game" than college. He also advised Koufos to "maintain" his health and focus leading up to next month's Rocky Mountain Revue, which he will likely participate in instead of trying to help Greece qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
It isn't likely the two will attend Utah's annual Greek Festival together, but Koufos said he's eager to work hard and learn from Sloan.
"He told me he's going to be hard on me, which I love," Koufos said. "(Sloan said) come in with an aggressive nature and we'll learn a lot more and I can become a very good basketball player for this program."
Koufos, the 2008 Postseason NIT MVP, had chances to turn pro a year ago, reportedly receiving a multi-million-dollar offer to play for Olympiacos BC of the Greek League out of Ohio's GlenOak High School. Other pro Greek teams continued to pursue Koufos whose mother was born in Greece and whose late father, Alex, was of Greek heritage but born in the U.S. after he starred for Greece and was named MVP at the 2007 Under-18 European Championships in Spain. He is still being lured by the Greek national team as well as pro clubs there.
"He's Greece's favorite son right now, I think," his mom said.
That point was evident when he received celebrity treatment something Kathy Koufos joked was "out of control" while visiting the country last year.
Koufos insists he'll turn down any and all Greek offers. He's holding out hope that he might be able to participate in the Olympics, but he says that's up to his new bosses.
"For me, the priority is the NBA and it always will be," he said. "Whatever the (Jazz) staff needs me to do to excel at this level, I'm going to do."
Koufos will wear No. 41 on his jersey the same as Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, whose game he likes but he called it "an honor" that some are comparing his skill set to that of Mehmut Okur's. Koufos claimed he feels comfortable shooting from NBA 3-point range though he only shot 34.9 percent from beyond the arc as a freshman and said he has an "in-and-out" game that allows him to shoot from distance as well as post up and effectively pick-and-roll.
While not drafted as a defensive stopper, per se, Koufos is confident he can handle his own against other big guys. To help him with that, he said he'll hit the weight room to add more muscle to his already 265-pound frame.
During his only season at Ohio State, Koufos proved he was willing to work. He occasionally played against fellow Ohio native LeBron James and even spent an hour-and-a-half before and after games working on his shot.
"I got a passion for the game," he said.
While he is also passionate about his Greek heritage, Koufos is thankful one thing wasn't passed on: his family's short genes. The tall teen is the only member of his family who is taller than 6-feet. His mom is 5-8 and his father, who was a doctor, was only 6-0. His older brother is just 5-11 and his sister is a bit shorter than that.
"God blessed me with height," Koufos said with a smile. "This is my lottery winning."
When asked where he got his height, his mom quickly said: "From God. (His dad) prayed about it."
Koufos also thanked a higher power for blessing him with "wonderful talents" and good health.
"I'm living a dream right now," he said. "I can't complain about anything."
Not even falling 10 or so spots to the Jazz, an attitude that could help him make a good first playing impression with Jazz coaches and fans."I'm just here to work hard, be the best player I can be on and off the court," Koufos said. "I'm going to soak up as much information as possible, play within the system and ... contribute. I'm going to do all it takes to win and also enjoy it at the same time."
The rookie's numbers
Ohio State Buckeyes
Born: Feb. 24, 1989
Hometown: Canton, Ohio
2007-08, Ohio State
Games started: 35
Points: 14.4 ppg
Rebounds: 6.7 rpg
Blocks: 1.8 bpg
3-pt FGs: .349
E-mail: [email protected]