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News » Opportunities are there for centers

Opportunities are there for centers

Opportunities are there for centers Considering Jarron Collins' departure left just one center on Utah's roster and seeing how interior defense has been a Jazz liability, now seems like a fine time to be one of the two 7-footers on the team. Coach Jerry Sloan won't spell it out for the tallest guys on the squad ? Kyrylo Fesenko and Kosta Koufos ? but if he did, the writing on the locker room wall might look like this: P-L-A-Y-I-N-G T-I-M-E A-V-A-I-L-A-B-L-E. O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-I-E-S. C-A-R-P-E D-I-E-M. *-%-$-@-!

"If they don't understand that and can't see that there's an opportunity there for them maybe to get some minutes, then I'm not going to tell them," Sloan said at practice this weekend. "I think they should know enough on their own maybe there's opportunities if they're willing to work at it, be ready when they're called on, keep a good, positive attitude." Sloan needn't pull out the eye chart. Fesenko and Koufos ? who've shown flashes of exciting potential in their short careers along with some forgettable moments ? both clearly see an opening in the door. They both say they're ready to bust through it, too. "I'm here to compete for a bigger role," said the second-year Koufos. Different accent, same message from the Jazz's Ukrainian center, who says he's come a long, long way over the course of his first two seasons in Utah. "I really feel great about this year, and I think I can prove to all my haters that Utah Jazz keep me for a reason," Fesenko said. "You'll see a whole new Fes." Sloan sure hopes so but admits that's easier said than done. "I tell him talk is cheap," he said. "All he has to do is go out here and perform, run the floor, use his big body. He's got a great body for Basketball. He's thick, got good hands." However, what the 22-year-old has seemed to lack ? such as a drive to compete, to get into tip-top shape and to take things seriously ? has counterbalanced God-given gifts and hoops skills. Fesenko appeared in just 30 NBA games in his first two seasons, and spent time in the D-League with the Utah Flash. But, having been given one more year thanks to the Jazz opting to pick up their team option on his rookie contract this offseason, Fesenko claims he's ready to prove he belongs in the league and on the court. A sign of that, the big man said, was how he came to camp in his best shape ever. Fesenko didn't join the Jazz's summer-league team ? something Utah management wasn't thrilled about ? but he says he spent time improving himself, both physically and personally. On the free-throw line, too. "My rookie year compared to where I am right now, it's not even comparable," he said. "It's like two different players, totally." Remains to be seen whether that translates into more playing time behind Mehmet Okur after logging a mere 226 minutes so far ? with averages of 2.1 points and 2.1 rebounds. Fesenko does have a 7-foot-1, 300-pound body that can do damage inside if focused properly. He insists that is now the case, especially after he left his national team this summer in the middle of a tournament. Fesenko didn't want to talk about his early exit from Ukraine's team but said the experience provided "a really valuable lesson for me." As for Koufos, the 20-year-old focused this offseason on his strength and conditioning and tried "to improve every facet of the game." There's no disputing Koufos busts his tail, and the Jazz appreciate that. But Sloan believes the Ohio State product needs to improve his grasp of "knowing what we're doing" in the Jazz system and reacting better to opponents. Koufos seemed lost at times last season, when he played in 48 games, starting seven, and averaged 4.7 points and 2.9 rebounds. "You got to learn how to play Basketball and he's still young," Sloan said. "That's always the exciting thing to see guys if they're going to make progress." And if they do, Sloan will be willing to put them on the court more. He might be more open to that than ever, even admitting that he's reflected back on his career and conceded that he's made mistakes by not playing some guys sooner than he did (Bryon Russell, for instance). "I wouldn't count anything out," Sloan said, "because you never know once you get started playing and guys get an opportunity to play a little more." e-mail:

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Added: September 29, 2009


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