It’s really cool because it shows how humble they are. They’re humble enough to come out to this part of the valley and say hello to Granger students. It was great. —Granger student Chase Alofipo
WEST VALLEY CITY — The Utah Jazz aren’t hosting their traditional camp-ending open scrimmage at the arena this year.
Before fans grumble about that, they should know the organization came up with an even better idea.
Granger High students and faculty certainly won’t complain about the change.
On Friday afternoon, the Jazz threw a surprise scrimmage party for the Granger student body in the new Granger gymnasium.
It was a huge hit — for the stunned students and staff members to the appreciative Jazz players.
“It was very fun. You could see the excitement, us rolling on campus and everybody wondering who it was,” Jazz guard Rodney Hood said. “When we got into the gym, it went crazy. It was a fun experience. I’m glad they had fun.”
Jazz point guard Dante Exum, who’s not too far removed from high school, called the unconventional assembly “so much fun.” He was very impressed with the Lancers’ exuberance and thought it was cool that it was kept a secret until the team arrived.
“They were saying keep it a secret this whole week. We did,” Exum said. “I’m pretty sure they didn’t know until the moment I walked out. It was good. They were screaming the whole time. We weren’t as loud as them back in high school.”
The reaction of the teenagers in the packed arena was priceless when Jazz players entered the gym after Bear and the dunk team warmed up the crowd, most of whom didn’t know what was about to happen in what had to be the best-attended assembly in Granger history.
Students stood up and went wild.
Some screamed and jumped up and down on the bleachers.
Many grabbed their phones and recorded the fun moment.
Some even cried.
“It was a cool experience,” Granger girls basketball player Nyibol Makol said. “I liked to see what they actually did. It was cool. I liked it. It was really a surprise. I was like, ‘Wow!’”
Chase Alofipo, a former Junior Jazz player who plays football for Granger, called it a “big surprise” for him. When he saw the Jazz players enter the gym, he asked himself, “Is this happening?”
This was a special moment for a school in an economically challenged area of the Salt Lake Valley that doesn’t always get a whole lot of positive publicity.
“It was really fun,” said Alofipo, whose favorite player is Gordon Hayward. “It’s really cool because it shows how humble they are. They’re humble enough to come out to this part of the valley and say hello to Granger students. It was great.”
A fun surprise, no doubt.
“This is beyond what anybody ever expected we would walk into because we had no idea what to expect,” Granger High math teacher Sarah Thomas said. “For the school to celebrate the kids’ successes was pretty exciting.”
Thomas said she and other teachers weren't informed what was going on at the assembly. It was a top secret. She just knew the administrators, whose lips were sealed, wanted to reward the students with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“The kids have started off the school year really strong. They’ve been attentive. They’ve been doing what they’re supposed to,” Thomas said. “There’s a whole different cultural feel around the school this year and the administration wanted to congratulate them and celebrate them this way.”
It turned out to be a perfect partnership for this fun event. The Jazz opted to do something different with their open scrimmage, which is required by the NBA, and Granger was a solid match with its new gym and student body makeup, among other factors.
Steve Starks, president of Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment, wore a big grin as he did laps around the crowded balcony overlooking the court. He soaked in the excitement of the Granger student body.
“We wanted to take the Jazz to the community and to fans who may not have ever attended a game in the arena,” Starks said.
Those fans were quite grateful for the gesture.
The fact that Granger High, like the players on the Jazz roster, is much more diverse than the majority of Utah was another element that made this a neat moment for many.
Senior twin sisters Kasanita and Toilose Moungaafi have never been to a Jazz game, and they were overcome with emotion when the players ran onto the floor. They said they were surprised the Jazz chose the West Valley City school as the site of their open scrimmage.
"I don't know why," said Kasanita, still grinning and giggling after the scrimmage ended. "Probably because we are really diverse."
Added her sister, Toilose, "Yeah, and I liked how the team was really diverse too. I liked that. It was my first time ever seeing any of the guys. So I was really excited."
While Thomas enjoyed the Jazz players being in her school, she was even more touched by the reaction of the Moungaafi twins and other students.
“We were watching those girls jump and up and down and cry over the fact that the Jazz were here, and then to find out that they’ve never seen the Jazz game in person,” Thomas said. “So to have that experience in their own school was pretty exciting for them. It was fun to watch that happen. It was fun to watch these kids be excited about the Jazz and the diversity that they brought to our school.”
Fittingly, an undaunted Granger High student reporter even worked her way into the postscrimmage media scrum and asked Exum how he felt when he found out he was coming to play at her school.
Exum, as usual, responded politely and professionally.
“I’ve never been to a high school out here, so it was a cool experience,” the 21-year-old Australian said. “My kind of vision of American high school is what I got today. I loved it.”
For Exum, this was his first game played on a court outside of the Zions Bank Basketball Center since he tore the ACL in his left knee in July 2015 with the Boomers. He admitted to having some butterflies.
“It was more excitement nerves,” Exum said. “It’s good. I’m glad I got that out before we start playing preseason.”
Hood said it kind of reminded him of playing high school hoops back at Meridian High in Mississippi.
“Definitely. I loved playing in my high school gym,” Hood said. “This was a little bit better than my high school was. It was just fun to get a chance to give them something to get excited for.”
Hood was happy to be able to end the scrimmage with “a little something” — an impressive 360 dunk.
“I’ve been working on my jumping ability,” Hood said. “It was just something to leave off with.”
The left with something even bigger — a great impression on a couple of thousand grateful kids.
“It means a lot,” Exum said. “If we come and do something like this, it only makes them Jazz fans and makes them want to come and watch us play during the season. Hopefully, we made some Jazz fans.”