There’s always new versions in there. The other day somebody called me Poe-ETT-uhl. I get it up to a certain point because it’s not an English name. —Raptors center Jakob Poeltl
SALT LAKE CITY — Dan Roberts, the Vivint Arena announcer whose recognizable, microphone-assisted baritone pipes fill the building on game nights with phrases like “How ‘bout this Jazz?!,” took a long look at the Toronto Raptors’ pronunciation guide earlier this week, chuckled quietly and raised his eyebrows.
While staring intently at the list of names that he’ll be expected to properly pronounce Friday night with the Raptors in town, the longtime Jazz employee offered a short response.
Utah (5-3) and Toronto (4-3) appear to be equally matched in terms of basketball talent, but the Raptors are a much tougher matchup for announcers, media members and anybody else who wants to say and spell players’ names correctly.
Even though Utah’s roster is a mouthful because of a diverse group of players and coaches with names like Igor Kokoskov and Ekpe Udoh, the Jazz are a phonetic breeze compared to the Raptors.
Seven members of Utah’s team — and one building (VIV-ent) — have pronunciations listed in the media notes.
Toronto’s pregame press sheet includes 10 guys on its pronunciation guide — from OG Anunoby (it’s pronounced Oh-Gee) to Delon Wright (wright rhymes with write). Bad jokes aside, those two players (it’s Ann-uh-no-bee and Deh-LON) are joined on the tricky-to-say list by Bruno Caboclo (cuh-BO-clo), Serge Ibaka (Surge ee-BAK-ah), Rex Kalamian (kah-LAY-mee-an), Jama Mahlalela (Jah-MAH MAH-la-lay-lah), Lucas Nogueira (no-GARE-uh), Jakob Poeltl (Yah-cub PUHR-tuhl), Pascal Siakam (Pass-CAL See-AHK-am) and Jonas Valanciunas (YO-nahs vah-lahn-CHEW-nahs).
Asked about the challenges his United Nations-friendly team presents when it comes to pronunciation, Toronto coach Dwane Casey (Dwane is spelled and pronounced without a y, FYI) admitted it took a while for some of the interesting names.
“Valancunias, it took me two or three years to get that one down pat,” the coach said, grinning while seemingly saying the Lithuanian’s name correctly. “Jakob instead of Jacob, it was pretty challenging.”
At least C.J. Miles is a no-brainer to say.
It might take longer to perform anthems from all of the nations involved than to actually play the game if they opted to do that in this international affair. The Raptors have players from eight different countries on their roster (none from Canada, mind you). Jazz players represent seven different countries.
Toronto’s coach, an American from Indiana, loves it.
“I don’t care if a guy’s from the moon or Mars or whatever; if he can play and he’s going to give it to the organization and to the team, bring him on,” Casey said. “That’s what our front office has done — scrounge the world.”
Wright, the former University of Utah star, admitted he used to struggle with Poeltl’s first and last names.
The hardest name on the Raptors?
“Probably OG,” Wright said after practice Thursday. “I still haven’t said his name out loud.”
Understandably, Wright knows that his former Ute teammate’s first name begins with a "YAH" sound and that the 7-footer's last name rhymes with turtle.
Poeltl, an Austrian with a German surname, said he knows how to pronounce all of his Toronto teammates’ names. Some people still struggle with his name, though.
“There’s always new versions in there. The other day somebody called me Poe-ETT-uhl,” PUHR-tuhl said, smiling. “I get it up to a certain point because it’s not an English name. I hope sooner or later everybody is going to catch on to it.”
Wright is on the list because of his first name, which does not rhyme with the first name of former Jazz guard Deron Williams, by the way.
“They call me (Dillon) or (die-LAWN), stuff like that,” Wright said. “It’s all right. I’ve been used to it since I was younger.”
Jazz players can empathize with their Canadian-based colleagues.
“I’m used to it,” said Jazz guard Raul Neto of Brazil. “Everybody says Raul, but the right pronunciation is Hah-OOL. That’s how we say it in Portuguese.”
Nett-oh — not Neato! — is patient about it.
“Of course, everybody wants to hear their name pronounced the right way, but I don’t care,” he said. “If they say Raul, I’m going to answer it in the same way.”
Especially if that person is Jazz coach Quin Snyder, who jokingly called him “Wolfie” a couple of years ago because his name sounds like the English word “howl.”
Neto believes the Jazz have easy names to pronounce. He even properly said Ekpe Udoh’s name. Despite what you might have heard, the Oklahoma native with Nigerian roots pronounces his name EPP-ay You-Doe.
It's not Ep-KEE or EK-pee, as he says some pronounce his first name (which is actually Ekpedeme, by the way).
And it's not Ew-DOE, as some say his family name.
While we're speaking of the Jazz, Thabo sounds like TAH-bo and Sefolosha is pronounced sef-a-LOW-sha. Assistant coach Igor Kokoskov probably has the trickiest name (kuh-KOSH-kov) this side of coaching associate DeSagana Diop (not on the pronunciation guide, for the record).
DAHN-tay x-umm, Rudy go-BARE and Joe ING-uhls are also on the Jazz’s repeat-after-me pronunciation cheat sheet.
“Slow week! Must be a slow week,” Ingles (or English, as Spanish speakers might call him) jokingly said from across the locker room during the Udoh interview.
"I ain’t got no answers for you."
Roberts feels grateful that NBA public relations staffs do have answers on this subject for announcers, though.
“Poeltl, I know. Serge Ibaka, I know. Jama Mahlalela phew!” Roberts said, perhaps feeling happy that he has more time to work on MAH-la-lay-lah. “Jonas Valanciunas, I’ve seen him before. Delon Wright, that’s no big deal.”
Roberts, who knows that the Jazz’s Jonas says his name with a hard J (like his Swedish family name Jerebko), will spend at least a half-hour before Friday’s tipoff studying and practicing the Raptors’ roster.
“That’ll be interestingly difficult,” he said.
Roberts has been the Jazz’s P.A. announcer since the team moved from New Orleans in 1979. He takes great pride in getting players’ names right, but admits he’s messed up a few times over the years, which is understandable. Two players have challenged him the most: Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo and a former Croatian player with lots of vowels and consonants in his "impossible" name that Roberts happily let slip out of his memory.
Roberts did a Google search for a phonetic breakdown of The Greek Freak’s name before Milwaukee visited Utah for the first time a few years ago. You don’t even need to ask, and the amicable announcer will proudly say YAHN-iss ah-deh-toh-KOON-boh out loud a time or two.
“I’ve learned that,” Roberts said, “and I could roll it off my tongue.”
Easy for him to say.