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Utah Jazz: Almond gets advice from Atlanta's Smith

Published February 24, 2008 2:13 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Given the paths they took from high school teammates to the NBA, maybe it's no surprise that Jazz rookie Morris Almond and Hawks forward Josh Smith will have to wait another season to play against each other in the pros.

Smith was at EnergySolutions Arena for Saturday's game against the Jazz, but Almond was on the road with the NBA Development League's Utah Flash, where he has spent the bulk of this season.

Almond was assigned to the Flash before the Jazz's trip to Atlanta in December and talked then about missing out on the first game against Smith. “We're both young guys,'' he said. “There'll be plenty of time for that.”

The two played at McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga., winning a region championship when Almond was a senior and Smith a junior. Both agreed they were denied a state title only because of the bruised knee Almond suffered in the region title game.

Smith transferred before his senior year and jumped directly to the NBA out of high school. He was drafted by the hometown Hawks and won the dunk contest as a rookie. Almond, meanwhile, struggled just to earn minutes his first two years at Rice.

“I was on the bench like I fell off the face of the earth and Josh is winning the dunk contest,'' Almond said. “We were always a tandem in high school and they're all like, 'What happened to Morris?' because I went away to school in Houston and we're both from Atlanta. I was proud of him the whole way, though.”

Almond stuck it out and developed into one of college basketball's leading scorers as a senior. His NBA career is starting out similarly, with Almond twice scoring more than 50 points for the Flash but without a return ticket to the Jazz.

Smith still sees Almond's family regularly in and around Atlanta. “He's going to make it whatever he does,” Smith said. He was asked what advice he would give to his old teammate and said, "Just know that his career is long."

As he spent the first month of the season bouncing between the inactive list and the end of the bench, Almond said Smith was a source of encouragement.

“He just said, 'That's the league. It's ups and downs,' ” Almond said. “He's about to come up on a contract extension so he was talking about how this is a big year for him. And just to hang in there and keep working.”

Back in December, Almond recalled the duo that he and Smith made in high school.

“We complemented each other,” Almond said. “I was a shooter, kind of like I play now, while he was just a live wire. He'd pin the ball on the glass, run the floor and we'd throw him the lob and he'd catch it and dunk it. He's just gifted physically.”

Smith cited the long odds of two high school teammates making the NBA and said, “It's a blessing that both of us were able to do it, be able to take care of our families.”

Briefly

Kyle Korver played with a brace on his left knee after hyperextending it in practice this week. Deron Williams the past two games has donned a sleeve with padding for his right elbow. He suffered a bone bruise Tuesday against Golden State. “I just wanted to look like Allen Iverson, Carmelo [Anthony],'' Williams joked.

rsiler@sltrib.com