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News » Doing the dirty work

Doing the dirty work

Doing the dirty work General manager Kevin O'Connor isn't holding onto hope that Matt Harpring will play in the coming season, and teammates seem resigned to the likelihood that lingering ankle and knee injuries have curtailed the Jazz forward's NBA career. It's a void to be filled, and not just by C.J. Miles, Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap each picking up a few of Harpring's minutes. Rather, auditions are under way at Jazz training camp for someone ? anyone ? to fill the role of a gritty, grumpy, nasty, pain-in-the-tail type who performs for low pay and doesn't necessarily need applause to know when his part's been well-played.

At the head of call line: Ronald Dupree, a 28-year-old journeyman in the word's truest sense. He's played for five teams over five NBA seasons, logged just 154 games in that span and toiled all of last season in the NBA Development League simply because he knows he still can play at the highest level. He doesn't have a guaranteed contract and isn't even assured he'll last much longer than when coach Jerry Sloan and the Jazz ? in the summer, mind you ? cut him the first time. But he has a legit shot of filling the vacancy created by the anticipated absence, and he doesn't even care it's probably not fair to deem him Harpring's possible replacement. "Matt had a terrific time here," Dupree said of a fan favorite respected for his toughness and honest effort during his seven seasons in Utah. "I kind of want that to be me now. "Y'all can all me what you want, but I'm a guy that's going to be a positive influence on this team," the Mississippi native added. "I'm here to do the dirty work. So label me the 'dirty-work' guy. Whatever. I'm just ready to play." But with ex-Memphis and Miami power forward Alexander Johnson, undrafted Marquette guard Wes Matthews and Utah State product Spencer Nelson all also among those free agents in camp who are cognizant that, as Sloan said, "there's (a roster) opening," Dupree isn't about to be handed anything. It's simply not the Sloan way. The undrafted Louisiana State University product learned that in July 2003, when he didn't last past two-a-day workouts for the Jazz's Rocky Mountain Revue team. "I never heard of a guy getting cut in summer league," Dupree said. Yet he's one who was. All Dupree remembers hearing is, "If you don't hear your name, good luck and thanks for coming out." "So I didn't hear my name," he said. "I came up to him (Sloan) and ? I don't know if he remembers this, but ? I said, 'Hey, Coach, you didn't call my name.' "And he's like" ? insert deeper, more Midwestern farm voice here ? "?'Yeah, Ron. We appreciate you coming out. Good luck with everything.'?" It turns out Dupree's future fortune wasn't all that bad. He didn't make it out of Detroit's fall training camp in '03, but after a D-League stint did manage to finish his rookie season averaging 6.2 points for Chicago. Another 47 games followed the next season with Detroit, as did 14 playoff-game appearances for a Pistons' NBA Finals team. A season in Minnesota followed, as did a short return stint in Detroit and ? at the 2007-08 season's end ? a few games with Seattle (now Oklahoma City). It's a career path not dissimilar to those of former Jazz swingman Raja Bell and ex- Jazz guard John Starks, both of whom carved out lengthy and productive NBA careers despite going undrafted. "Those guys got better," O'Connor said with reference to the two while discussing Dupree, "and guys that get better can wind up playing." Dupree, when he started, wasn't nearly as good as today. He readily admits that. "I wasn't drafted," he said, "so my only alternative was to work hard." Still, Dupree says that to this day he has "no clue" why he couldn't even crack the Jazz Revue team's lineup. "I thought I was talented enough to play in summer league. Or at least have that opportunity," he said. "So ? that was as low as I could get at that point." Sloan does have a memory of the matter, but it's as foggy as Dupree suspected. "I think probably if it had to be one thing it probably would have been his shooting ? an inability to shoot the ball at that time," he said. This despite the fact Dupree wound up his four-season Louisiana State career as the school's eighth all-time leading scorer, linking him then with three others ? including Shaquille O'Neal and Hall-of-Famer Bob Pettit ? as the only players in LSU history to finish in the top-10 for both points and rebounds. "I was stunned," he said. "It was just another motivation to me ? and ever since then things have been interesting for me." They have, though it's not shooting and scoring that's helped Dupree hang as long as he has. Rather, it's little things. Hard picks. Falls to the floor. Defense that wears on opponents. Harpring things, in other words. "Being confrontational: I'm willing to do that," Dupree said. And while at 209 pounds he may not have the linebacker-like look of a certain someone else, Dupree does have a calling card. "He's a guy similar to Matt, with a little more athleticism," Jazz point Deron Willliams said. "Very, very similar." Utah Flash head coach Brad Jones added. "Same type of guy ? come off the bench and knock guys around. And he's gonna keep his mouth shut and do what (coaches) say." Getting cut by Cleveland last fall was another low blow for Dupree, who opted to come to camp this month with Utah instead of the Denver Nuggets ? whom the Jazz open preseason play against Thursday night at EnergySolutions Arena ? largely because the Jazz may be planning on a 14-man roster. "The main reason: Harpring possibly being out," Dupree said. "That right there moved them up as one of the top opportunities." It's the sort of chance Dupree was banking on when he played last season in the D-League for paltry minor-league pay in the $30,000 range. That decision alone shouldn't prompt sympathy. "It wasn't like the light bulbs weren't going to get paid," Dupree said. But it did mean some sacrifices, like making road trips with homemade ? and per diem-saving ? red beans and rice in tow. "It was a good thing," Dupree said of the experience. "I was on the radar with the NBA, and I had a great time. I really did." It also was an enlightening experience, as Dupree learned ? another revelation ? that even in the D-League one can get traded. It happened last January, when Flash coach Jones claimed ex-University of Arkansas big man Steven Hill off waivers from Oklahoma City and traded him to Tulsa for Dupree. Though Dupree initially didn't want to come, he deems the swap "a blessing in disguise." Dupree had a season-high 37-point playoff game, the Orem-based Flash rode his back to the D-League Finals and all the while Jones ? Sloan's nephew by marriage ? kept close tabs on someone with as good of a chance as any of the free agents in camp to claim a roster spot. "For us, he was an all-around everything. He was a scorer. He was our tough guy. He was our leader," Jones said. "He's a terrific defender, on the ball and off the ball. Offensively, he's like a slasher. ? A really good shooter to about 18, 20 (feet). "I guess the best thing I can say about him is he's a winner. No coincidence, we were one game over .500 when we got him and we finished 14 games over .500," the Flash coach added. "He's the consummate pro. He works his (rear) off, and he's a great guy in the locker room." e-mail:

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: September 30, 2009


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