SALT LAKE CITY — Rayjon Tucker was star-struck — plain and simple.
In his second game with the Utah Jazz (not too mention his second game as an NBA player), he looked out on the court, suddenly things got pretty surreal. There was one of his childhood idols, up close and personal, playing against his team.
“Paul Geroge has been my favorite player since I started watching basketball,” Tucker said. “When I saw him on the court, I was like, ‘Awww!’”
That was his welcome to the NBA moment; the time when his dreams came into contact with his new reality. And he didn’t even get into that game.
But that moment helped him with when he actually did. Tucker appeared in his fourth straight contest during Friday’s 109-92 win over Hornets. Jazz coach Quin Snyder put him in his now-regular run during the first few minutes of the second quarter.
During that run on Friday, Tucker had a high-flying two-handed dunk, he hustled to a ball flying out of bounds and swatted it off a Hornets player to save possession, and he was stout defensively, switching to Terry Rozier on one possession and then not letting him get the ball.
That last point is what’s giving him the chance to get early minutes.
“I think his ability to defend, potentially, and I think that is a focus for him,” Snyder said. “I feel like that is an area that if you can defend, you can find a way to get on the floor at various times. ... Being able to go in and perform and compete in a short period of time is important because you never know what the game is going to call for.”
Snyder used the word potential. And at this point, that’s what Tucker is full of. You can point to his scoring touch that had hm nearly averaging 24 points per game in the G-League. You can point to his explosiveness around the rim. And you can point to his quick lateral movement on the defensive end.
The scoring catches people’s attention when you are in the G League. The defense gets you on the court in the NBA, especially with the Jazz.
“He’s strong and he is able to chase on screens, to get up in pick and roll and do a lot of those things,” Snyder said. “Sometimes when you are a little unsure of what you are supposed to be doing it makes you less aggressive.”
It’s no surprise that Tucker hasn’t figured everything out yet. He’s on his first NBA team and has yet to have an official practice with the team.
That’s why he’s staying late after shootarounds to run through things with coaches and a few teammates and why he’s been seeking advice from just about everyone.
"Doing shootaround, after shootaround, I script the plays with the coaches,” Tucker said. “I kind of watch what they are doing out on the court. I watch my position, watch Royce (O’Neale), Joe (Ingles). I kind of watch what they do and that’s how I pick it up.”
He’s picked up enough to earn at least earn a small role lately.
Against his hometown Charlotte Hornets, the team he spent his childhood watching, he played nearly 17 minutes, registering 2 memorable points, a steal and an assist.
Maybe more importantly, though, he wasn’t star-struck anymore.
“It’s another basketball game,” he said. “I’m a hooper, so it’s just another game to me.”