I always love to help the community, to interact with the kids, with the fans. It doesn’t matter who I am on the court, to me it’s important. —Rudy Gobert
NORTH SALT LAKE — If Rudy Gobert wasn’t the favorite player of students at Foxboro Elementary, the Utah Jazz center certainly is now.
The feeling is mutual.
Gobert is impressed by kids from the school with a French-English dual-language immersion program, too — oui oui, even if a few of them humorously put him on the spot during his visit Wednesday afternoon.
While some students asked fun questions about his favorite foods — American (doughnuts), French (liver pâté) and ice cream (gelato) — others inquired about some more pressing and personal matters during two Q&A assemblies (one in French, the other in English).
“Do you have a girlfriend?” a student asked in French.
“No,” Gobert answered en francais. “I am single.”
“Have you ever been dumped?” an English-speaking student later asked, referring to a girlfriend and not Boston transplant Gordon Hayward.
“Can you sign my elbow?” one of the younger students asked, causing Gobert to grin and teachers to shake their heads in amused disapproval.
The student’s elbow remains unsigned, by the way.
Although professional media members had their turn to interview Gobert — whose team begins training camp for the 2017-18 season next Monday — the question du jour came from one of the school’s older students.
“How do you feel about Hayward leaving?”
As laughter filled the air — especially from faculty and reporters — Gobert pointed over to one media member and teasingly claimed the question was a setup.
“I think you probably hired one of the kids to ask me that,” Gobert later joked with media. “Good try, though.”
So, really, how does the fifth-year player feel about Hayward picking the Celtics over the team that groomed him for the past seven years and choosing to play with Al Horford instead of Gobert?
The big Frenchman side-stepped the query as if he were doing a Euro-step move around a defender.
“It’s sports,” Gobert told the student, who deserves extra credit for posing a hard-hitting question. “We have a new year. We have some new guys. We’re excited for this year.”
Even without their wayward All-Star, Gobert said he likes the makeup of the new-look Jazz.
“I’m excited for this year. We have a lot of great guys joining our team,” Gobert said. “The guys, even the young guys like Donovan (Mitchell) and Tony Bradley, or the older guys like Ricky (Rubio), Thabo (Sefolosha), I think these guys are going to help us a lot. We’ve got competitors. We’ve got guys who like to play defense, like to share the ball, so it’s going to be fun.”
French-speaking Jazz fans had to love a translation-worthy tidbit Gobert told them in his native language.
“I think we can win a championship very soon,” Gobert said. “I like the people here a lot. I like the coach here a lot and the organization.”
Oh, la la!
Gobert’s time at this elementary school began similarly to one of the most famous scenes of a sports movie. When they got word that The Stifle Tower had arrived at their school, students began chanting, “Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!”
The fifth-year player smiled — and kids erupted in loud shrieks and cheers — as he entered the gymnasium, by ducking his head, after hearing the Notre Dame-approved chant from outside an open door.
Gobert spent most of the next hour sitting in a faculty-sized desk chair in front of an exuberant and receptive audience. Most pre-designated French immersion students had written down their questions in the foreign language to help.
The St. Quentin native — kids learned that’s his hometown, not Paris — understood most of what they asked in French.
“It’s fun,” he said. “I love the fact that we have French questions here and kids learning French, I think it’s great for them.”
A few more things the inquisitive Foxboro youngsters learned about Gobert:
His favorite colors: bleu, noir et rouge (blue, black and red).
His height: Deux metre et quinze centimetre (“Seven-one,” he said in English).
Favorite countries: France, the U.S., Spain, Mexico and Guadalupe (and he wants to visit even more).
Favorite player growing up: “When I was young, I didn’t watch basketball, but I watched ‘Space Jam’ with Michael Jordan so he was my favorite player.”
How old is he?: “Vingt-cinq.”
How much does he make per game?: (Akward laughs. Next question? The unspoken answer: $258,838.07, not counting incentives, thanks to his new four-year, $102-million conract.)
His favorite player now: “Today it is Rudy Gobert.”
What age did he start playing basketball: "12."
How old is he?: “Twenty-five.”
What did he work on this offseason (media question): “I’ve done a lot of things to try to get better, stronger and be ready.”
How old is he?: “Still 25.”
Gobert said this experience reminded him of being a school student. The way he treated each child who asked a question (even if the same one over and over and over), who waved at him, who gave him a high-five and who hugged him was as warm and soft as the inside of a fresh baguette.
“I always love to help the community, to interact with the kids, with the fans,” Gobert said. “It doesn’t matter who I am on the court, to me it’s important.”
One last important question: Who asked the better questions: students or reporters?
“I think right now I would give the edge to the kids,” Gobert said, smiling. “But you can try better.”