Jazz hopeful for late surprise in draft

Jazz hopeful for late surprise in draft

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By DOUG ALDEN AP Sports Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Jazz come up later in the NBA draft than in past talent parades.

Instead of midway through the first round, the Jazz are near the end with the 25th selection Thursday.

"You prepare the same way. You just have to prepare for more people," said Kevin O'Connor, Jazz vice president of basketball operations.

O'Connor, coach Jerry Sloan and his staff took a final look Wednesday at six more draft prospects, then huddled to try to complete a list of who they want and who likely would be left when their pick comes up Thursday.

Matching the criteria is the hard part. There are plenty of players that Utah would like, but they may not be available.

"We're at the mercy of 24 other teams right now, so it's going to be dependent a little bit on what they do," O'Connor said. "But we will have 25 names when we go into the draft and have some kind of order on them so that we don't have to make a spur-of-the-moment decision."

Sloan, who is entering his 20th season as coach, leaves most of the evaluation to O'Connor and Utah's scouts. The pre-draft interviews and workouts give Sloan a better idea what the players are like and whether they could live up to his gritty work ethic.

It's a collaborative process.

"I'm not looking for the final say," Sloan said. "You've got to realize that these guys have seen these guys play for four years in some cases, and I've watched them on film."

Two years ago, the process was a lot easier.

The Jazz had the sixth pick after going 26-56 and knew exactly what they wanted. Utah made a deal with Portland to move up to No. 3 and took point guard Deron Williams from Illinois.

No regrets there: He helped lead the Jazz to the Western Conference finals this spring.

Last year, it was trickier. The Jazz picked 14th and took shooting guard Ronnie Brewer, who averaged 4.6 points in 56 games. Utah fared better in the second round, getting forward Paul Millsap with the 47th pick. He played in all 82 regular-season games and averaged 5.2 rebounds.

"We don't give up on the draft once the first round goes by," O'Connor said.

It's been nine years since Utah's first pick came this late in the draft. With the 29th pick in 1998, the Jazz selected Nazr Mohammed out of Kentucky and traded him to Philadelphia.

Raul Lopez of Spain was No. 24 in 2001 and played two seasons for Utah, averaging 6.5 points and 3.8 assists at guard.

O'Connor said the Jazz brought in 36 players for pre-draft looks. Wednesday's group included point guard Taurean Green, who helped Florida win back-to-back NCAA championships.

The Jazz have Williams at point guard, but O'Connor said Utah is targeting overall talent with its late pick rather than a specific position.

Green said he'd be willing to play behind Williams or any other starter in the league. He just wants to know where he'll be playing in fall.

"Who knows? Anything can happen on draft night. You've just got to sit and wait until your name's called," said Green, who worked out for 13 teams and was looking forward to relaxing Thursday.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-06-27-07 1647MDT

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