I think he helps us a lot on offense because we move the ball more. That’s my first impression. He’s tough-minded, he wants to get better and he’s a good character guy. —Stars coach Martin Schiller, on Erik McCree
TAYLORSVILLE — Karl Malone. Paul Millsap. Recognize those names?
Heavyweights in the Utah Jazz organization, right?
In addition to being former Jazz stars, Malone and Millsap also share a common thread as Louisiana Tech alumni.
Following the footsteps of those former Jazzmen is highly unlikely for any young prospect, but the Jazz have reached back to Ruston, Louisiana, to bring in yet another Bulldog, with new two-way signee Erik McCree.
“I always talk to my head coach,” McCree said of Louisiana Tech. “I bleed blue and red. I love my school.
"Paul Millsap, he came back a few times to play pick-up with us,” he added. “Karl Malone was at the game a few times. So, I’m trying to keep it going.
“I haven’t talked to them yet but I’m looking forward to it, though.”
McCree, 24, has yet to make his NBA debut, but he’s tearing up the NBA G League for the Salt Lake City Stars.
Prior to joining the Utah franchise, the Orlando, Florida, native starred for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, a Miami Heat affiliate, where he averaged 16.2 points and 5.2 boards in 13 games. In four games with the Stars, he’s putting up 20.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists, but continues to learn on the fly.
He learned the news right before preparing to hit the floor for the Skyforce on Dec. 20 against the Reno Bighorn, then had to turn around and play the Skyforce as a member of the Stars on Thursday, Dec. 21. Putting his emotions aside, he still managed to drop 22 points, nine boards, four assists and two steals in his debut against his former club, but lost 127-109.
Being prepared for sudden changes like that is what makes it tough being part of the NBA’s official minor league basketball organization. Stars coach Martin Schiller is trying to work him in as quickly as possible. The Jazz waived the teams' first two-way player Eric Griffin to sign McCree.
“I think he helps us a lot on offense because we move the ball more,” Schiller said. “That’s my first impression. He’s tough-minded, he wants to get better and he’s a good character guy.”
Although Jazz coach Quin Snyder hasn’t been able to watch him closely, with his team enduring a brutal December stretch, members of the front office are certainly paying attention. They see him as a tough, physical and smart guy who is cut from the team’s fiber.
“I follow our G League team. A lot of guys on the staff, when we have the opportunity to go to games we do,” Snyder said. “But as far as being able to evaluate the G League, my conversations are more with Martin and the job that he’s doing, which I think is a terrific job.
“That’s the important thing for us with the G League is guys learning and being ready and getting better.”
Jazz rookie Tony Bradley is typically back and forth in the G League on assignment, and Naz Mitrou-Long is another Jazz two-way player for the Stars who has offered advice to McCree. He wants to see him succeed.
“One, it’s easy to get accustomed to the lifestyle out here,” Mitrou-Long said. “There is a little bit of a city, but there’s not much to do so it’s going to be gym and home. I just told him to do a bunch of studying.
“We have a lot of sets and schemes that coach (Quin) Snyder runs and coach Martin is trying to implement as well.”
McCree says he’s ready to jump in and contribute right away, if necessary, for the Jazz. The undrafted, 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward has a knack for scoring but likes to guard multiple positions on defense.
It’s safe to say that Louisiana Tech teaches their guys well.
“If I’m up, I just got to play hard and support the team any way I need to,” McCree said.