Utah Jazz: For longtime coach, Randy Foye lets down his guard
NBA • Respected vet “a horrible person” before a challenge from his youth coach.
Published: October 4, 2012 11:55PM
Updated: January 14, 2013 11:31PM
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Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Randy Foye, the newly acquired Jazz player from the LA Clippers, talks to the media at the Zion's Bank Basketball Center, Thursday, July 26, 2012.

On an airplane from Santa Barbara, Calif., where he left behind his Utah Jazz teammates for a quick trip home for an important reason, Randy Foye toyed with writing a speech. He settled for tapping talking points into his iPhone.

When a gymnasium full of people stared up at him, curious for what he had to say to them and his longtime mentor sitting in the front row, Foye went off script. He talked about struggling in school and skipping games. He described himself as a selfish young player and a “horrible, horrible person.”

It was the story of a player coming of age who barely resembled the one the Jazz signed in the offseason to bolster its outside shooting.

Accomplished on and off the court thanks to a foundation he set up to help children in Newark, Foye is known as one of the NBA’s good guys.

As Foye spoke in that gym in early September, the skinny man wearing a blue yarmulke atop his curly blonde hair cried.

“Even if you were talking about the president,” Sandy Pyonin said, “I wouldn’t think he was as good of a person as Randy.”

Pyonin was honored that day for 40 years of service as a local Jewish high school’s basketball coach. Organizers brought in several former players, including Foye, to help honor him. Pyonin has sent 33 players to the NBA from both his school program and an American Athletic Union club team.

Al Harrington, Kyrie Irving and former Duke star Bobby Hurley are among the players who were tutored by Pyonin, but he said he talks the most with Foye.

“They all have texts,” he said, “but Randy has his phone and he always picks it up. Which is great for me because I don’t text.”

Foye grew up without parents. His mother was kidnapped and murdered when he was 5, he said, and his father later died in a motorcycle accident.

“This is like a broken record,” Foye said. “When you grow up in the inner city, you don’t have a strong supporting cast around you. You can fall victim to anything.”

Pyonin challenged Foye to be a better player and person starting in seventh grade.

The Jazz signed Foye in the offseason after a courtship that spanned more than two years. The guard has played for Minnesota, Washington and the Los Angeles Clippers since he was drafted with the No. 7 pick in the 2006 Draft. In 2010, Foye says he “was a step away from flying here and signing a contract.”

Jazz vice president and former general manage Kevin O’Connor said a deal with Foye hinged on Carlos Boozer, who had not yet agreed to a deal with Chicago.

“He had a couple of really good offers out there,” O’Connor said, “and we just told him, we liked him, ‘You’re somebody we would really like to consider, but we can’t make a decision right now.’ ”

Foye signed with Los Angeles, where he averaged 10.4 points over the past two seasons as a teammate of Jazz point guard Mo Williams.

While Foye transitioned from a wayward student of the streets to a composed advocate, his game has undergone a makeover just as significant. He was limited to 39 games in 2007 by a knee injury. Unsure of how explosive he would be when he recovered, he committed to becoming a better shooter, he said.

“I used to sit in a chair and just shoot one-handed all the way back to the 3-point line,” he said.

He returned from the injury to shoot 41 percent on 3-pointers, and last season shot 38.6 percent.

“He’s a great spot-up shooter,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “We can put the ball in his hands to make plays some. But if he can have his feet set spotting up in the corner, or behind the 3-point line, we feel very good about him making shots.”

Foye said he recognizes that many basketball skills eventually fade with age, but shooting is one that allows players to stay in the league even as their bodies struggle to keep up.

“You look at somebody that’s been through a lot of things in their life and they understand that being able to play basketball is a gift,” O’Connor said. “And he’s taken advantage of it.”

boram@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribjazz

Randy Foye file

Position • Point guard/shooting guard

Team • Utah Jazz

Age • 29

College • Villanova

Previous teams • Minnesota, Washington, Los Angeles Clippers

Career • Averaged 11.6 points in six-year career. … Averaged career-high 16.3 points in 2008-09 with Minnesota. … Drafted No. 7 overall in 2006 by Portland before being dealt to the Timberwolves in a draft-day trade for Brandon Roy.