SALT LAKE CITY — While Matt Mooney is hoping the right situation will bring him into the NBA — and, hey, why not with the Utah Jazz? — there was a plausible scenario that could have resulted in him already playing for a Beehive State team.
After his second season at South Dakota — where he'd garnered All-Summit League first-team honors in 2017 and '18 — the Coyotes' head coach took a job at Utah State. Craig Smith, who'd been hired as Tim Duryea's replacement, offered Mooney the opportunity to follow him to Logan to play one season as a grad transfer.
"It was definitely something I thought about and considered a lot," Mooney said.
The scrappy 6-foot-3 shooting guard was intrigued, but ultimately opted to go play at Texas Tech. His decision was based on the competition, not the coach.
After Wednesday's pre-draft workout with the Jazz, Mooney said he told the new USU bench boss, "'Coach, I love ya, but I think I'm going to go play Power Five my last year. I want to play against the best competition in college basketball.' He understood."
The season ended up being successful for Mooney with the Red Raiders and with Smith and his Aggies. Texas Tech made it all the way to the NCAA championship game before losing to Virginia, and USU made it back to March Madness after winning the Mountain West championship and picking up 28 wins.
Though the Aggies' coach wasn't able to make it to this workout, he did send the NBA hopeful a text wishing him well.
"We still talk all the time. That's my guy. I love Coach Smith," Mooney said. "He did so much for me. He gave me a chance at South Dakota. He let me play my game and developed me as a player. I think we'll always be close. There's no hard feelings that I didn't go there (Utah State) for my last year. He was sitting front row at the Final Four. He's been pulling for me and I was pulling for him. They had a great season."
As for his workout with the Jazz, Mooney thought it went well. Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin agreed.
"Mooney shot better than anybody out there," he said. "He shot it really well."
When asked if Mooney's basketball IQ will help him play "at this level," Perrin chose his words carefully about a player who will most likely have to work his way through summer league and training camp to earn an NBA roster spot.
"It will pay off at the next level — wherever that is," Perrin said. "And that's not to say he can't play in the NBA. Whatever level it is, the intelligence, ability to play with other teammates and making them better — at any level it works."
Mooney, whose defensive ability is an asset amenable to the Jazz's way of play, was the only player made available for interviews Wednesday at the practice facility. The other five prospects – Syracuse wing Tyus Battle, Virginia big Mamadi Diakite, Notre Dame guard T.J. Gibbs, Miami big Dewan Hernandez and Arizona wing Brandon Randolph are underclassmen. Because they might return to college, the Jazz don't allow reporters an opportunity to ask them questions.
Mooney smiled and felt fortunate that Diakite didn't rub in the Cavaliers' championship win over Texas Tech.
"He didn't talk any smack. He's a nice guy," Mooney said. "If I were him, I probably would've talked smack, but he didn't talk any."
Mooney, who grew up outside of Chicago in Niles, Illinois, added that he'd heard stories about the Jazz from his dad. He'd also admired a Utah player in his youth, so he had a favorable opinion coming into this tryout.
"When I was coming up, Utah had Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, those guys back in the day," said the 22-year-old, who was a big fan of Illinois and Williams.
"I remember they had some good times with he (D-Will) and Boozer. My dad would always talk to me about Stockton and Malone. Those guys played against the Bulls, played against Jordan in the Finals two times. I was pretty fine with the Utah organization just from my dad and watching Deron Williams."Comment on this story
Jazz fans might not like his response to a reporter's tongue-in-cheek question about whether MJ pushed off against Bryon Russell to clear space for his iconic shot in 1998.
Mooney didn't hesitate to respond, "No."
Though he didn't end up in Logan for an extra year of school, Mooney did play at USU one time when he was with Air Force his freshman season before transferring to South Dakota. He admitted the air was dry, but he handled the elevation just fine — and loved the surroundings.
"It's beautiful out here — the mountains, the city," he said. "It's just beautiful, the scenery. I like it out there."