|Almond happy draft angst ended with Utah pick|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 29 June 2007 21:35|
The Jazz introduced Almond on Friday, one day after selecting him with the 25th pick in the NBA draft and hoping the shooting guard from Rice is as good as Utah's scouts have thought he was since the 2006 pre-draft camp.
Almond declared for the draft as a junior, then withdrew to get another year of college experience after finding out he probably wasn't going to be a first-round pick. He returned to Rice and was the Conference USA player of the year, averaging 26.4 points.
He said the Jazz told him a year ago that they were interested in him, but weren't going to take him in the first round. On Thursday, Utah was just hoping he was still available.
``We looked at it and saw a player that persevered - a player that accepted the fact that he needed to go back and do whatever he needed to do to get better,'' said Kevin O'Connor, Jazz vice president for basketball operations.
Almond said he was thrilled to be coming to the Jazz, who made it to the Western Conference finals this season, and join a young team that includes second-year point guard Deron Williams and All-Stars Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur.
He will also be playing for Jerry Sloan, who in 19 seasons coaching the Jazz has seen plenty of rookies not live up to the promise of the draft-day hype.
Almond met with Sloan last week and said he knows what he has ahead of him, starting with the summer league next month.
``He does things the right way. I know nothing is going to be given to you here. You have to work for everything,'' Almond said. ``He's fair. He just wants to win. I think under those parameters I can fit in here very well.''
Almond already has shown he can work. He got his degree from Rice, a school he said he chose because of its reputation for academics. Almond said his choices were Rice or Virginia, where he was bound to get more notice in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
``At Rice, it's a smaller school. There's no denying that and it's not exactly a basketball factory,'' he said. ``I kind of always said that if you were good enough you would kind of make it regardless of what school you went to.''
Almond said he watched the draft from his home in suburban Atlanta and knew when the Jazz pick was coming up that he was a likely choice. He was happy the angst ended there.
Almond is the fifth shooting guard selected by the Jazz in the last five drafts. O'Connor said they liked Almond because of his accuracy - he was a 49 percent shooter in four years at Rice - and ability to pass and rebound.
Almond saved himself from an embarrassing moment late in his introductory news conference when he said he had watched the Jazz play at Houston in the opening round of the playoffs. Utah rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win the series in seven games.
Almond slyly ducked the question when he was asked if he had been cheering for the Rockets.
``I'm not from Houston. I just went to school there,'' he said with a grin.
Adding Almond could leave the Jazz fully stocked at shooting guard. Utah selected Ronnie Brewer in the first round last summer and C.J. Miles out of high school in the second round of the 2005 draft.
On Friday the Jazz made qualifying offers to Miles and point guard Dee Brown, making them restricted free agents. That gives Utah the option of matching any offers Miles or Brown get and hanging on to them.
O'Connor said Brewer and Almond have the size to match up with some small forwards. Veteran guard Derek Fisher can play either backcourt position, so O'Connor feels there is enough versatility that the Jazz want to hang on to their developing shooting guards.