Utah Jazz: Former teammates McNeal, Matthews reunite in NBA
Portland, Ore. • They were just a couple of alumni, watching their school advance to the Sweet 16.
One was Wesley Matthews, the guard who rose from obscurity in his rookie season with the Utah Jazz before decamping for Portland. The other, Jerel McNeal, is on a 10-day contract with the Jazz and hopes to follow the same path as his former Marquette teammate.
"I know the Jazz," Matthews said. "They know that Marquette guys, they produce tough-nosed, hard-playing players. I could see a future with him there."
McNeal and Matthews watched the Golden Eagles, a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, beat second-seeded Miami on Friday at Matthews' Portland home.
It's been a strange road for the friends, who played at the Wisconsin private school from 2005 to 2009, which forked after college and converged Friday at the Rose Garden.
Matthews stuck with the Jazz in 2009 as an undrafted rookie. McNeal's path to the has taken Marquette's all-time leading scorer to Belgium and Italy, brief stints with the Clippers, Sacramento, Toronto, Chicago and New Orleans, and two D-League teams. He averaged 18.1 points and 5.5 assists for the Bakersfield Jam before the Jazz called him up on Wednesday.
One of his first calls was to Matthews.
"It was just crazy how things worked out," McNeal said. "Especially with me coming from the D-League, everything just happened so fast. One second you're down there, then the next second you're up on an NBA roster."
McNeal was inactive for Friday's game against the Blazers, not allowing Matthews to follow through on his hope "to put him [McNeal] in the rim."
Told Matthews said he intended to dunk on him, McNeal responded, "He knows better than that."
NBA players don't often struggle to get phone numbers, but Gordon Hayward wasn't giving this one up. No matter how hard Earl Watson tried, the Jazz's starting small forward wasn't going to hand over Butler coach Brad Stevens' digits.
Hayward's college coach, Stevens, was linked this week to the coaching vacancy at UCLA Watson's alma mater.
"He wouldn't give it to me," Watson joked. "Being selfish."
Despite the grind of the NBA season, Watson thought he could do some recruiting on behalf of the Bruins.
"They're not going to get coach Stevens," Hayward said.
Reports Friday that Stevens had committed to remain at Butler essentially put an end to those dreams for Watson and other UCLA backers. Watson played for the Indiana Pacers in 2009-10, the year Hayward led Butler to the NCAA title game.
"I watched a lot of their games, and coach Stevens stands for everything that's right in college basketball," Watson said. In basketball period, he's an amazing coach. â¦ I love watching his teams play."
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall was the latest coach to be linked to UCLA, which is searching for a coach to replace Ben Howland, who was fired after a first-round exit from the NCAA Tournament. The process makes one wonder: How far down the list does Dan Guerrero have to get before finding Watson? The former UCLA point guard has, after all, long expressed a desire to become a coach after his playing career ends.
"I would absolutely think about it," the 33-year-old Watson said. "It's something that's always been a goal of mine, especially at my school. I'm at the school every summer; I never really left."