Donovan Mitchell was playing at a high, high level and it’s going to be some great years in Utah in the future. —Duke's Gary Trent Jr.
CHICAGO — The Mormon culture and snow-capped mountains have been embedded in the fabric of Utah for so, so long that it’s hard to shake that identity.
But as the 2018 NBA draft approaches, young prospects in this year's don’t seem so apprehensive of the Salt Lake City lifestyle.
It certainly helps that the Utah Jazz are fresh off a second-round playoff appearance with a rising star in Donovan Mitchell. Another plus is their style of play, their fan base and their red rock-themed City Edition uniforms, which have helped create a new image around the squad.
Former Creighton star Khyri Thomas was one of the 69 prospects that attended Thursday’s NBA draft combine in Chicago. Thomas confirmed that he did interview with the Jazz and would love to join the organization.
Utah holds the No. 21 and No. 52 picks in the 2018 NBA draft on June 21 and Thomas is a projected first-round target. CBS Sports had the Jazz taking the two-way talent at No. 21 on a recent mock draft after averaging 15.1 points and 4.4 rebounds as a junior.
“I think Salt Lake is pretty cool,” Thomas said. “It’s a cool, laid-back environment, easy to live, not a lot to do and I’m just a homebody anyway so I think it’s real chill.”
Villanova national title game hero Donte DiVincenzo and South Carolina wing Brian Bowen are both testing the draft waters without an agent, but attended the combine and the Jazz’s first day of pre-draft workouts in the same group on Saturday, May 12.
DiVincenzo described the Jazz as an “amazing organization.”
“It was a good workout, it was my first one, so I was a little jittery but I got in there and got it under my belt and I feel good about it,” DiVincenzo said. “Even when I flew into the airport, there was fans all in the airport and everything so there’s a lot of attention there and they’re really supportive.”
Bowen has attended five pre-draft workouts already in Brooklyn, Atlanta, Boston, San Antonio and Utah. He’s also interviewed with Detroit, Minnesota, Toronto, and Sacramento. The former McDonald’s All-American is looking to clear his name from the NCAA probe that cost him his entire 2018-19 season after he was accused of accepting money during his college recruitment to Louisville.
“It’s been phenomenal. Donovan (Mitchell) definitely stepped up, that’s my guy and had a huge year, helped them go on a run in the playoffs,” said Bowen, who transferred to South Carolina from Louisville. “The workout was pretty good. You have to get used to the elevation of course so conditioning is a big factor out there but I feel like I performed pretty well overall and it was great.”
Duke one-and-done freshman Gary Trent Jr. didn’t interview with Utah during the combine but said he admired the franchise’s turnaround from starting 19-28 to becoming the fifth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
NBADraft.net has the Jazz picking Trent with their first-round pick on its latest mock draft, but he hasn’t communicated with the team directly.
“It changed in a big way. They heard a lot of things in the beginning of the year that they would not make the playoffs, they were (in the) lottery and all that type of stuff but they had a great year,” said Trent, who averaged 14.5 points while shooting 40.2 percent from three as a first-year guard. “Donovan Mitchell was playing at a high, high level and it’s going to be some great years in Utah in the future.”
Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey enjoyed the Combine action from a courtside seat at Quest Multisport Complex in Chicago with assistants David Morway and Justin Zanik. The front office is notoriously tight-lipped about leaking news, but it has to be a positive sign that young players are open to suiting up in Utah.
The Jazz will start with internal improvement this offseason, but the goal is to cut down on turnovers moving forward so selecting a guard in the first round makes sense.
“There’s no way to run, no way to hide from it, our ball security has to be better,” Lindsey said during exit interviews. “Of all the four factors, that’s the one that we’re most challenged with. And look there’s some things we’re going to have to overcome.”