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News » Jazzman Koufos still learning basketball

Jazzman Koufos still learning basketball

Jazzman Koufos still learning basketball PORTLAND, Ore. ? At the tender age of 20, he's still learning the game. Missing summer league because of a hand injury didn't help in that regard, and mostly watching ? rather than playing big minutes for ? his Greek national team at the recent FIBA European Championships tournament in Poland evidently wasn't a boost either.

Shoot, even nerves ? not to mention being consumed by the desire to meet lofty expectations that inevitably come with standing 7 feet tall and weighing 270 pounds ? may play a part. And finally, there's the matter of a looming $1.2 million contract decision. Whatever the recipe of reasons conspiring to slow second-year center Kosta Koufos may be, the Jazz haven't at all lost faith in their 2008 first-round NBA draft choice. "I'm sure he wants to do well," said Jazz coach Jerry Sloan, who has been riding both Koufos and fellow young big Kyrylo Fesenko particularly hard this preseason. "He (Koufos) wants us to get on him, and get after him, and try to make him better," added Sloan, whose Jazz play their seventh of eight exhibition games tonight at Portland. "I probably do it sometimes a little bit to a fault. "But he has talent." Sloan just wants to bring it out, remembering as he does ? much like Jazz general manager Kevin O'Connor ? that if the kid had stayed at Ohio State he still wouldn't even have started his junior season in college. "He's Basketball young," O'Connor said. "A lot of big guys are. He's got a long way to come." "He'd be a pretty good college player," Sloan added. "He can react to the ball, block a shot here and there. But there's more to the game than just that." Therein lies the rub. "If you're trying to build an expansion team, you can throw guys out there and you have a lot more leeway to let them make some mistakes," Sloan said. "But here we have a lot of pressure on us to win. We're expected to win. "That's all there is to it ? so you don't have 48 minutes to let a guy (learn through trial and error). He's got to sit on that bench and be focused on what's going on out on the floor, then when he gets out there just transition to it." Though they won't commit either way until sometime shortly after playing their final preseason game Thursday at Sacramento, the Jazz seemed inclined to meet an end-of-the-month deadline for exercising their $1.2 million third-year option on the No. 23 overall pick's rookie contract. Koufos maintains the wait isn't weighing on his mind ? "I'm focused on the task at hand right now," he said. "I'm just worried about improving every day" ? but he wouldn't be human if it wasn't. "Everybody has that to face up to," Sloan said of constantly pending contract decisions, "but that's part of this business." There are theories, though, as to why both Koufos and fellow 7-footer Fesenko have been struggling to stand out for much more than miscues and mistakes ? or had been, at least until combining to go 8-for-11 from the field (Koufos was 3-for-4 in 22 minutes) in Sunday's exhibition win over Charlotte. One centers on conditioning, though Koufos ? American-born, but the holder of two passports ? suggested the Greek-team experience is only "an excuse." "Physically, he (Koufos) looks good," O'Connor said. "But I think not playing over there (in Poland) during all that time probably hurt his conditioning a little bit." Then there's the issue of summer league, which Fesenko missed as well because of a stint with the Ukrainian national team that ended prematurely when he wasn't getting used much. "What hurt (Koufos) more than anything," Sloan said of the Jazz's youngest player for a second-straight season, "was the fact he wasn't able to play down in (Orlando)." Though he's about as hard a worker as they Jazz have, the need for further physical development plays a part, too. Sloan lauded Koufos' penchant for pulling down offensive rebounds but hastened to add, "When he gets them, he's got to be able to deliver the ball to the basket. That's where he's gotten in trouble a little bit, because he hasn't been able to finish." Mostly, though, it's a mere matter of figuring out the game. At Ohio State, for instance, Koufos played a lot of zone defense. Playing mostly man-to-man now, Sloan said he "gets frustrated." "He touches somebody and gets in foul trouble," the Jazz coach added, "then he feels sorry for himself. That's when you (have to) fight through things ? rather than cave in." Whether it's Koufos or Fesenko, all Sloan wants are Basketball's three R's ? not reading, writing and arithmetic, but rather running the offense, rebounding and running the floor ? and a whole lot of 'D.' "They've got to learn how to defend," Sloan said. "That's one of the big things young guys have a tendency to do ? is to try and impress you with how many points they can score." That established, Sloan has reserve-role hope for both. Fesenko, he said, "has a big body. We need a big body to try to help us play some." And Koufos, the Jazz coach added, is "better than he was a year ago." "The way we are now, there's a possibility he probably could play some for us," Sloan said when asked if he expects Koufos to spend more time with the Jazz or with their NBA Development League affiliate, the Utah Flash. "But I don't know. We'll just have to wait and see. "People think it's an overnight thing, but (it's not)," the Jazz coach added. "We just hope he can continue to improve. We knew that when we got him." e-mail:

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 21, 2009


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