He’s a blur in the scene but he’s there, on the court at Madison Square Garden as Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem takes in his first ever basketball game.
"If you see it," Rudy Gobert says, "he’s on the floor."
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Rudy Gobert file
Born » St. Quentin, France
Height » 7-foot-1
Weight » 245 pounds
Points » 2.5 per game
Rebounds » 4.8 per game
Drafted » No. 27 overall by Denver (acquired via trade)
As a player at Marist College in New York in the mid-1980s, Rudy Bourgarel had a number of opportunities — among them a trip to the NCAA tournament and at one point, along with some other Red Fox teammates, a small role in the ’80s hit "Coming to America."
What he wanted as much as anything, his son says, was to stay there and make an NBA roster.
Decades later, Gobert, the Utah Jazz’s rookie center, is living out that dream.
"He is happy for me," Gobert said. "Of course, it’s special."
The similarities between father and son are, well, big.
"Rudy’s father was a player who had terrific physical traits," said Marist coach Jeff Bower, an assistant at the school in the ’80s. "He had size, strength, good length, the ability to run the floor. He was really an outstanding physical specimen."
Gobert’s attributes — a 7-foot-2 frame with a 7-9 wingspan — attracted Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey to him while Lindsey was still with the San Antonio Spurs. Early on, Gobert has shown flashes of why Lindsey and the Jazz traded back into the first round of the draft to grab the Frenchman. He’s averaging nearly five rebounds a night, while playing under 12 minutes a game.
With center Enes Kanter dealing with a sprained ankle Monday, Gobert took advantage of some extra minutes to grab nine boards, score four points and block a shot.
"We’re still trying to add polish to his game in a lot of different areas," Lindsey said. "But I think what we were hoping is that his uniqueness would stand out. You just very rarely get a young man of his height and length that is mobile, that really has a passion for competition."
Jazz coach Ty Corbin has lauded the rookie’s efforts in practice.
"The way he works every day, you see his focus and determination to get better," Corbin said. "When he makes a mistake, he really beats himself up because he don’t want to make mistakes. … He’ll continue to get better because he’s going to push himself."
Part of that passion comes from his father. Bourgarel was part of a European infusion at Marist, and found himself stuck behind future first-round draft pick Rik Smits.
"He had to work to get his skills to come close to matching his athleticism," Bower said. "He went undrafted, but he had teams intrigued with his size. He was evaluated and had a chance, with some opportunities as far as camps, but was never able to make the next step."
Bower sees a different kind of player from what he’s seen of Gobert. "He seems to be a little more graceful. More on the move," said Bower, the former general manager of the New Orleans Hornets.
Bourgarel returned to France after college and completed his mandatory military duty, and went on to play a decade of professional basketball in Europe.
He had a son, Rudy, but the father never pressured him to play.
"When I started, my father just tell me, ‘Don’t play basketball because I play basketball. Just do what you want.’ When I was young he just told me to have fun," Gobert said.
It didn’t take long for Gobert to get serious, leaving his family when he was 13 to join the French Pro A team Cholet, growing into the player the Jazz drafted in June. Lindsey believes the rookie’s father’s influence has helped his progress.
"It’s always good to be able to learn from other people’s experiences, whether they’re positive or the ‘I didn’t handle this situation well, be better than me,’ type of feedback," Lindsey said. "The sons of professional players don’t always make it. A lot of prodigy sons don’t find the gym as much as their dads. But with Rudy you can see he’s been around the game a little bit. He knows how to handle himself in a professional way.
"And I’m almost certain his dad told him to play hard."
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