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SALT LAKE CITY — In 2015, the U.S. Census reported that about 120 languages are spoken in Utah. They credited the state's strong economy and the influence of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which brings many people from countries all over the world to Utah for religious reasons.
Maybe the Census should have given a shout out to the Utah Jazz, too.
After leading the NBA in international players with seven last year, the Jazz now have eight international players on the roster, thanks to this season's additions in free agency. So where do they all come from?
- Joel Bolomboy was born in Donetsk, Ukraine, to a Congolese father and a Russian mother. He can speak French and Russian.
- Dante Exum was born in Melbourne, Australia.
- Rudy Gobert was born in Saint-Quentin, France, and obviously, can speak French.
- Joe Ingles was born in Adelaide, Australia.
- Jonas Jerebko was born in Kinna, Sweden, and has both a Swedish and an American passport. He can speak Swedish.
- Raul Neto was born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and speaks Portuguese and Spanish well. No word on if he's learned French from Gobert.
- Ricky Rubio was born in El Masnou, Spain, and can speak Catalan and Spanish.
- Thabo Sefolosha was born in Vevey, Switzerland, and speaks French. (He isn't altogether fluent in Swiss German, I'm told, coming from a French-speaking part of Switzerland.)
Why do so many people from such different backgrounds come together so well?
"It's hard to say. I think there's something about being immigrants, we all come from different places, and we meet here with a common goal," Sefolosha explained. "It's just basketball, whether we're an international player or an American player, we have that in common. So that makes it easy for all of us to be friends and bond."
And many of the players say Salt Lake City reminds them of home.
"I love going back home. It's a little bit like Utah with the mountains and we have a lake," Sefolosha said.
"No salt in it though," he joked.
Former Jazzman Andrei Kirilenko also calls Utah his "second home," when talking about the life in Salt Lake City. When they're not at their actual homes or traveling for basketball camps, Jazz players from around the world have embraced staying in Utah over their summers, partially to work out with Jazz coaches and trainers at the Zions Bank Basketball Center.
Those coaches and trainers aren't all American, either. Besides Quin Snyder's foray into Russia, assistant coach Igor Kokoskov is a Serbian coach who is currently the head coach of the Slovenian national team. Alex Jensen acted as an assistant for the German national team. Dirk Bauermann, a German Bundesliga head coach, was assisting the Jazz during summer league, and Martin Schiller, also a Bundesliga head coach and German national team assistant, will be coaching the Salt Lake City Stars next year. Desagana Diop, officially a Jazz coaching associate, is Senegalese.
Media Draft Central is in the Jazz players' lounge. This is a nice touch on one wall. pic.twitter.com/uK9eausqzl — Jody Genessy (@DJJazzyJody) June 22, 2017
The result is that Zions Bank Basketball Center can feel a little bit like a melting pot, with players and coaches from around the world coming together in a basketball laboratory to make magic happen. And that feeling extends to life on the road in the NBA as well.
"We'll have some typically more European games on the plane," Sefolosha said.