He was a lottery pick, taken No. 12 overall in the 2005 NBA Draft the same draft that nine selections earlier landed the Jazz point guard Deron Williams despite his having just turned 18 years old at the time.
But Yaroslav Korolev's career with the Los Angeles Clippers didn't exactly pan out as planned.
He appeared in 24 games as a rookie in 2005-06, which was fully expected to be a developmental season. But the lanky 6-foot-9 small forward never did turn into the rotation regular the Clippers had envisioned, and instead he played just 10 games in his second NBA season.
Career average to date: precisely 1.1 points per game.
Yet Korolev was in the Clippers' initial plans for last season.
And then after point guard Shaun Livingston's devastating knee injury prompted the signing of veteran Brevin Knight, and power forward Elton Brand's ruptured Achilles tendon led to the signings of Ruben Patterson and Josh Powell he found himself out of a roster spot-sapped picture.
So Korolev returned in December to his native Russia and played instead for his hometown Moscow Dynamo, thinking the whole time about an eventual return to the NBA. And now he is a free agent in the Jazz's Rocky Mountain Revue camp, now just 21 and hoping to salvage what once was at his fingertips.
"It's the best league in the world, and everybody's trying to go here. Me, too," Korolev said Tuesday, before the second day of practice for an NBA summer league that gets under way Friday at Salt Lake Community College.
"Especially at my age," he added, "I still have a lot of years in front of me, so I'm gonna do my best to get back here as early as I can."
The Jazz are willing to give him the chance, and it's no charity gesture.
"He's got a lot of basketball skills," Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said.
"I think he's a kid that can really shoot the basketball," general manager Kevin O'Connor added. "We want to see if he's expanded his game a little bit."
The Jazz aren't sure what went wrong in L.A., where perhaps his game simply wasn't NBA-ready, and maybe expectations were warped by the pressures of being drafted so high.
They really don't care, either.
"He's got a blank page with us," O'Connor said. "He's a 21-year-old ... that's coming in to look for a spot. That's how we look at it. I want to see who he is now."
"A lot of guys you make mistakes on, but that doesn't mean they can't play if you work at it hard enough and understand what's going on," Sloan added. "We'll just take a look at it and see what's here."
Sloan said Korolev must learn "how we're gonna play, not to bury your head, and go one-on-one."
Korolev sounds willing to try whatever it takes.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work," he said in free-flowing English, "and I've got to show that you're better than other guys and that you deserve a spot on the team."
Some NBA team.
Any NBA team.
"It's the league. It doesn't matter, I think, what team it is," said Korolev, who has options to return to his homeland. "It's just (that) when you're trying to get back in the league, you're taking the opportunity any chance."
Before coming to the Jazz's Revue camp, in fact, he also played one game for the Dallas Mavericks at the ongoing NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, scoring two points in 15 minutes.
If things don't work out with the roster-jammed Jazz, he'd even be willing to take another crack, if asked, with the Clippers an organization against which he bears no ill-will.
"I tried my best to stay in the league. I stayed with the Clippers until the last game of (last) preseason, but I didn't make the team," Korolev said. "I'm happy with those two years I spent there, and if I have a chance to do it I'm gonna take it again."I spent a lot of time developing, and I'm sure I did develop," he added. "It just wasn't so lucky for me that two main players in the Clippers got injured, so they had to switch from young guys to more experienced guys."
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