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MONSON: Jazz prospect is 'very tall, and very Romanian'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Posted: 3:16 PM- The hunt for a center can take the Jazz along some serious pie-in-the-sky paths, resulting too often with serious pie in their face.

Jazz fans know this. Truth is, the only words in franchise history that stir more anxiety among them than Benoit for three! are big-man project.

Maybe it's Mark Eaton's fault. The Jazz, with him, apparently hit their once-every-three-decades allotment of success with long-shots in the low post, and have been paying dearly ever since.

Any NBA outfit compelled enough, after so many hard lessons learned, to close its eyes, hope against hope, send up a few unrighteous prayers, and reacquire Greg Ostertag a couple of seasons back - no need to mention other sojourns over reckless horizons, from Luther Wright to Curtis Borchardt - will do almost anything to find a shot-blocker.

And that's exactly one of the two things the Jazz still need: a defensive presence in the paint, and a scorer who has range on his shot.

If they dig vigorously enough through subterranean depths, canvas the globe, look at tall mechanics under every car hood, beat through and beyond hedge and bush and forest, some sleepy, green giant might magically lumber forth.

Picking at No. 25, probably not.

But the Jazz can dream.

Tuesday's great slight hope dialed in on Ionut Dragusin, a 7-foot-3 center nobody knows anything about, other than he is very tall and very Romanian. He showed up at a crowded Jazz pre-draft workout at their practice facility that included about 50 other players.

He caught my eye because I knew he caught the Jazz's eye.

Why? Because guys that large always grab their attention, regardless of whether they have the lateral quickness of your Aunt Gertrude and shoot as though they're wearing oven mitts.

It matters little. If God grew them tall, they have a chance with the Jazz. Ask Eric Leckner. Ask Walt Palmer.

The most attractive aspect to Dragusin is the confounded secrecy and mass obscurity surrounding him. He isn't in the NBA draft book. Mock drafts ignore him. Even the Jazz know almost nothing about him, other than there are scant rumors circulating that he might be climbing the charts as a potential late first-rounder. They've seen him twice - once in Houston, where he recently emerged working out with John Lucas, and once now in Salt Lake.

"John Lucas said, 'You guys need to take a look at him,'" said Walt Perrin, the Jazz's director of player personnel. "He had a very good workout down there. His workout here was OK."

Perrin said Dragusin runs the floor fairly well, has a decent shooting touch, and, when asked whether the unknown was ready to play in the NBA, he answered: "Probably not."

Look out, Jazz fans, even if Kevin O'Connor doesn't pick him Thursday, this is exactly the kind of tall stiff your team finds difficult to resist.

"He's a guy we just wanted to bring up and take a look at a little closer," Perrin said.

Here's what I discovered about Dragusin after talking - such as it was - with him after Tuesday's session:

He spoke some English, although Masha Kirilenko would suggest only enough to get himself misinterpreted in a pinch.

He had the personality of a rock, although he was pleasant, polite, and grinned a lot.

He had the disposition of a stone wall, prompted mostly by the language barrier. The bigger question, can he - or could he at the end of some developmental day - protect the basket like one?

He goes by Johnny. How that translates from Ionut, beats the heck out of me, but it fits his anonymity snugly.

He's played basketball for just five years, waking up one day - after his growth plates rocketed him skyward like Jack's beanstalk - yearning to play in his hometown of Bucharest, but not really getting into it until after he moved to Italy when he was 17.

He's 21 now.

He also played rugby.

He likes all kinds of music, especially rap and hip-hop. When he gets behind the wheel of a car, he likes to crank it loud.

He played - or, at least, watched - in Spain for a couple of years, last season as a pro, seeing a total of 36 minutes in nine games for a team called Bruesa, averaging 1.4 points and 1.2 rebounds.

He said he shot the ball "pretty good" over the last few games of his season, making about 60 percent of his attempts, although he wasn't clear on the exact percentage.

He enjoys defense better than offense: "I like to block shots and rebound," he said.

Asked if he is a proficient shot-blocker, he answered: "Normally."

He watched the Jazz beat the Rockets in Houston during the playoffs, and lumbered away impressed.

"If I can play here, it's an honor," Dragusin said. "For me, an opportunity. I'd like to play here. It's a good, good team. I like the way they play. [Deron] Williams is a good guard and [Carlos] Boozer is good. I like it here."

He said, in so many awkward words, he likes the way the Jazz do their business.

Now, we'll see if that way of doing business is compelled and desperate enough to take another whiff at a big man whose history and abilities are fully known by nobody.

"I am like mystery," Johnny said. "It's exciting."

Be afraid, Jazz fans. Be very afraid.

gmonson@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">gmonson@sltrib.com

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