NBA hopeful Hiram Fuller got a phone call from his mom on Wednesday morning. He thought she was calling to say "hi" and ask how two-a-day training was going with the Utah Jazz's summer-league team.
Her voice, though, quickly gave away the unfortunate fact that this wasn't just a cheerful catch-up call. Fuller's mom broke some tragic news: His 6-year-old cousin had drowned while playing in a pond at a park.
"It's like losing my own son," Fuller said.
As if trying to earn a spot on an NBA roster weren't hard enough, now the 6-foot-9, 268-pound power forward is carrying a heavy heart as he tries to impress a coaching staff.
The death has put Fuller in a position in which he has to quickly make a painful decision:
Should he continue training for and playing with the Jazz in the Rocky Mountain Revue this weekend while his family mourns in Tacoma, Wash., without him?
Or, would it be better for the professional journeyman to take a few days off to attend the funeral at the risk of leaving the summer-league squad and missing precious playing time?
Back at practice Thursday, Fuller said he appreciated that Jazz coach Jerry Sloan gave his condolences and told him to take as much time off as needed.
"My family is the most important thing in my life," he said.
Trying again to make it on the Jazz roster also ranks very high on his priority list.
The Fresno State product came fairly close to accomplishing that feat two years ago. Fuller participated on the Jazz's Revue squad in the summer of 2006 averaging 2.6 points, 2.0 rebounds and 5.5 minutes in six games and was invited back with the team for fall training camp. He was released two days before the regular season opened in what Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor described at the time as "a tough call."
Fuller believes his versatility from playing good defense to rebounding to his inside-and-outside offensive game, he said should be attractive and beneficial to Utah.
"I'll put all my emotion on making this (darn) team," he said.
Sloan said the Jazz brought him back for the Revue because they "thought he worked hard."
"He's a big body, a pretty lively body," Sloan said. "(He is) a guy who can fill in for us, maybe work himself into position to come back again."
Different health issues, including a tight hamstring right now, have gotten in Fuller's way of pursuing the NBA over the past several years. When he was with the Jazz in '06, his blood pressure raced because of anxiety and stress, leading to an early departure from the summer-league team and requiring medicine and medical attention. The following spring, when he was playing in France, Fuller tore his Achilles tendon. That put him out of action for another eight months.
Since recovering "110 percent" from that, he's added China, Kuwait and Puerto Rico to a growing list of worldwide pro pit stops. His passport has also been stamped in Korea, Venezuela, the Philippines and ... Nebraska.
But Fuller, who played four regular-season games for the Atlanta Hawks in the 2003-04 season, is hoping to finally find an NBA home and Utah, he believes, is a perfect fit."That's my motivation right there. I know I can play in this league. I just know I can," Fuller said. "It's all about right time, right place. I just hope this year is the right time, right place for me."
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