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Utah Jazz found a hidden gem by drafting Paul Millsap

Published March 10, 2014 8:24 am

NBA • Work ethic helped former Louisiana Tech forward rise from an afterthought to Atlanta All-Star.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Paul Millsap's attempt to impress NBA personnel-types at the 2006 predraft camp in Orlando was going miserably.

Hoping to show he was more than a rebounder after leading the nation three straight years at Louisiana Tech, Millsap struggled against the bump in competition.

Game after game, he looked like just another player who could dominate at a mid-major college but didn't have the all-around tools to earning a living in the NBA.

Then-Utah general manager Kevin O'Connor and head coach Jerry Sloan kept watching.

They went to the camp to eyeball everyone, of course. But Louisiana Tech had been good to the Jazz — think Karl Malone — and Utah's bosses didn't give up on Millsap as quickly as most of their peers.

Bingo.

In one of the final games at the camp, Millsap went head-to-head against Shelden Williams of Duke and dominated a player who would eventually be the No. 5 overall pick.

"He wasn't really playing that well," Sloan recalled. "He struggled until that game and we all happened to be there. We saw it and came away thinking he could be a pretty good player."

O'Connor did his homework and discovered why Millsap had magically morphed into a player worthy of being drafted.

"I don't think people understood how sick he was in Orlando because Paul doesn't speak a whole lot. He just plays," O'Connor said. "But he fought through it and, during that game, was really good. Jerry and I looked at each other and said, 'OK.' "

Millsap eventually spent seven seasons with the Jazz before signing a two-year, $19 million contract with Atlanta in July. He returns to Utah for the first time Monday night.

In the 2006 draft, the Jazz used their first-round pick on Ronnie Brewer, a shooting guard from Arkansas who eventually played four seasons with the club.

Then, O'Connor and Sloan waited.

Utah owned consecutive picks in the second round — Nos. 46 and 47 — and they hoped Millsap might slide to them.

"When you lead the country in rebounding three straight years, you know the guy has to be out there busting his butt every night," O'Connor said. "That's really what we saw in him."

When it came time for the Jazz's second-round picks, Millsap was still available.

"We had him going much higher," O'Connor said.

The Jazz took Illinois guard Dee Brown with the 46th pick. He had been a college teammate of their rising young star, Deron Williams.

At No. 47, the Jazz eagerly drafted Millsap.

"We thought he had a chance," Sloan said. "But I don't think anybody visualized where he is today."

Look at the 2006 draft, in hindsight. If teams could pick again, Millsap would go in the top-five, not the top 47.

Surprisingly, he had an immediate impact in Utah.

Millsap joined Sloan's big-man rotation that also included Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Jarron Collins.

He ended up being one of only nine rookies in Jazz history to play all 82 games — a list that includes John Stockton.

In his first year, Millsap averaged 6.8 points and 5.2 rebounds. He blocked more shots (74) than any Jazz rookie except Mark Eaton, Andrei Kirilenko and Thurl Bailey.

Millsap quickly became one of Utah's most popular players.

"I loved Paul Millsap," said Jazz superfan John Sudbury, a season-ticket holder since the franchise moved from New Orleans. "He was an overachiever. ... He came in, proved everybody wrong and always gave 110 [percent]."

In his seven years with the Jazz, Millsap missed 16 games.

"He reminded me of Joe D'Maggio, when people asked him why he played every day," Sudbury said. "Joe told them, 'They pay to watch me, so I'm going to give them my best effort.' Paul was a throw-back in that respect."

Before signing with Atlanta, Millsap finished sixth on the Jazz's all-time list in blocked shots (521), eighth in rebounding (3,792), eighth in steals (604) and 10th in games played (540).

"One thing about him, he wasn't afraid to work," said Sloan. "His work ethic probably helped him more than anything. ... He did it the old-fashion way."

Said O'Connor: "He's a Jerry Sloan kind of guy. Paul doesn't talk much. He just plays." —

Jazz vs. Hawks

P At EnergySolutions Arena

Tipoff • 7 p.m.

TV • ROOT Sports

Radio • 1280 AM, 1600 AM, 97.5-AM

Records • Jazz 21-41, Hawks 26-35

Season series • Hawks, 1-0

Last meeting • Hawks, 118-85 (Dec. 20)

About the Jazz • This is their first home game since Feb. 25. ... They come off a 1-5 road trip, which they capped with Saturday's 104-92 win at Philadelphia. ... G/F Gordon Hayward averages 16.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists. ... The next nine games are against playoff teams or teams currently sitting ninth in their conferences.

About the Hawks • They have lost 14 of their last 15 games since Feb. 4, including six straight. ... They come off a 109-108 loss to the Clippers on Saturday night. ... G/F Kyle Korver had his NBA-record for consecutive games with a three-pointer snapped at 127 in Wednesday's 102-78 loss at Portland. ... Korver is 4-for-8 on threes in the last two games. —

Paul Millsap time line

Feb. 10, 1985 • Born in Monroe, La.

April 2, 2002 • Named high's school's Mr. Basketball in the state of Louisiana

June 28, 2006 • Selected in the second round (No. 47 overall) of the NBA draft by the Utah Jazz

Dec. 26, 2008 • After playing in 194 straight games, misses a game against Dallas because of a knee injury

July 10, 2009 • Signs an offer sheet with the Portland Trail Blazers

July 17, 2009 • Signs a four-year, $32 million contract with the Jazz

Nov. 10, 2010 • Scores a career-high 46 points in a 116-114 overtime win over Miami.

Oct. 1, 2011 • Inducted into the Louisiana Tech Athletic Hall of Fame

July 10, 2013 • Signs a two-year, $19 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks

Feb. 16, 2014 • Makes first appearance in the NBA All-Star Game