I’m excited about coming back to Utah.
I’m really happy that the Jazz believed in me, and were able to match the offer. It really means a lot to me because they didn’t have to do that, but they chose to.
The Salt Lake City community has been a great place for me, and it’s definitely one of the reasons why it’s great to play in Utah. I grew up near Indianapolis, which is obviously a big sports town. Brownsburg, where I’m from, is really big on sports as well. Everybody went to all the high school games, and every Friday you’d go to the basketball or the football games. (Our baseball teams were really good as well.) Everyone was kind of sports crazy.
There are similarities in Salt Lake City, except here, it’s all about the Jazz. They’re pretty crazy about their basketball. The only time when you don’t hear about it is when Utah plays BYU in football, and then the state kind of shuts down. But other than that, it’s all Jazz.
The fans are tremendous as well. They’re cheering and supportive no matter what. We had a down year last year and they still showed up and got behind us. And when they do, Energy Solutions Arena is rocking. That just feels awesome. There’s really no way to describe the feeling when the crowd is behind you and you’re on a huge comeback, or you make a shot to win the game. Utah crowds are just tremendous.
We’re going to need that kind of energy going forward, and I know Jazz fans will bring it.
Away from the court, what I really like about the fans in Utah is that they’re really respectful of my time and privacy, and me as a person.
I actually had my yearly camp in Utah right in the middle of contract negotiations, and going into the camp, I had just signed the offer sheet with Charlotte. A lot of fans don’t necessarily understand how the contract situations work. I thought it would be kind of awkward to have kids and fans be there, and that maybe some people would want to leave, or be rude toward me.
But right when I got to Utah, I had somebody come up to me at the airport and say, “Hey, just wanted to let you know congratulations on the contract offer. Whether or not you stay, I’m just so happy for you.”
Not one person came up to me and said something bad.
This was my second year doing a camp in Utah, and I’m glad to say that once again, it was a great success. We did it for two days, three hours each day, and had a little over 150 kids, from age six all the way to 17. It was a wide-range of skill levels and talent, which was really neat to see.
With all the kids, we worked on individual skills, and I showed them drills that they can do. I showed the older kids some more advanced stuff. But I also emphasized that basketball is a team game. I always tell them, “When I played Butler, we were definitely not the most talented team in the nation. But the reason why Butler went to two national championship games in a row was because we played like a team.”
To emphasize that philosophy, I tell all my campers, “I want to see everybody pass the ball, share the ball and get everybody involved, even if they’re not the best player.”
I also try to make the kids understand that basketball is a game, and not everybody can be a professional. School is something that’s really important. I use myself as an example there, because even though I left college early, I’m still going back to school, and I’m still going to get my degree. It’s important to have that.
But I understand that while creating that awareness is important, I never want to discourage anyone from trying. So I follow up by telling them that anything is possible. Both of my parents are 5’10”, and no one thought that I would ever be a pro athlete. But anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it, and make some sacrifices.
I want them to dream big, and I go down that road with them a little bit.
The last thing I always tell them is to make sure that they have fun. Basketball is a game. It should be fun when you play. That’s what I want all the campers to take away from my camp.
The best part for me is just seeing the kids smile, and being able to walk around and give them a high-five. (I have to admit, I also enjoying blocking their shots off the backboard a couple times, and dunking on them every now and again.)
My wife actually was talking some smack, and said she was a better shooter than some of the rest of us. So one of the coaches pulled her out onto the court to see if she could walk the walk. She could not. She air-balled two or three shots, and her team lost.
That was pretty funny to see.
CREATING A LEGACY
Signing my contract to return to the Jazz was a big sigh of relief for me. There were so many people talking about it last year, when we didn’t get the extension done. It was all really up in the air. I didn’t really know where I’d end up.
It also offers some security for my future. I think the average career length in the NBA is around four years, so this helps me surpass that. Barring injury, knock on wood, I’ll be in the NBA for at least seven to eight years. That alone is something pretty special for a kid who grew up in Indiana. I didn’t think I would ever be where I am right now in my career, but it’s really a good feeling to not only be in the NBA, but be at this level.
I think the commitment shows how much the Jazz believe in me, and what they think I mean to their franchise. That’s a really good feeling for me, knowing that they stand behind me. To be able to play there at least another three or four years and be one of their centerpieces is something I’m looking forward to.
I was told that they see me and Derrick Favors as two of the guys they can lean on, and build the franchise around. They appreciate that I do a lot of things for them, and I think they like the fact that, for both Favors and I, this will be our fifth year. We’re still improving, we’re still young players, but at the same time we have some experience.
The last month or so has been a whirlwind, and it’s all gone by incredibly fast with a lot of changes. I got married in May, and that will be one of the best days of my life, until have kids, regardless of basketball. Then with the free agency, there were all these things happening really quickly.
My wife and I were just wondering where we could start going house shopping. Now that we know, there will be fun times ahead, and we can start to live our life together. Then, on top of that, to be blessed with this contract — we were just really fortunate to have that all come together so quickly. I’m excited to get back to Utah and begin this season.
One thing that I really love about the Jazz is how they embrace the tradition of the franchise. They always have guys from their 90s teams come by and help us out. You see Karl Malone and John Stockton around the team a lot, and Jeff Hornacek too, before he got into coaching.
Everybody around the team knows the tradition, so there’s a legacy to uphold. I take a lot of pride in that every time I put on the jersey. You’ve got to take pride in your organization and your franchise. Utah is definitely one that’s easy to take pride in.
It’s the responsibility of myself and my teammates to not only uphold that tradition, but to add to the legacy. That’s easier to do when your franchise is committed to trying to win a championship.
The quality of the organization starts at the top with the owners in the Miller Family, and trickles all the way down to the ball boys that they hire. Everyone is there for the players, and they’re happy to be there and happy to help. That’s really cool to see from an organization.
The franchise also treats you like family. Whenever I have family that comes in, they embrace them and treat them like they would treat me. Something like that is extremely important for me as a player. It shows that they really are there for me outside of what happens on the court. It’s one thing for them to be there and support you as a player, but it’s a completely different thing when your team supports you as a person.
When I got married a few months back, I think every single person from the Jazz either sent me a text, or sent us a congratulatory gift or a card.
That’s pretty special, and probably pretty rare.