Denver • On one morning during Utah Jazz training camp, coach Quin Snyder sat beside rookie Naz Mitrou-Long and gave him the advice that would stick with him for the next few months.
Pay attention, Snyder said. Learn all you can during this opportunity. You never know if you’ll be back, so soak it up in the meantime.
“As a rookie, you have to wait your turn and understand that there’s certain mechanisms about playing at the NBA,” Mitrou-Long recounted recently to The Tribune. “That’s all I’ve tried to do since I’ve heard this information: just be a sponge and learn everything I can.”
Mitrou-Long waited his turn, cutting his teeth with a G League contract with the Salt Lake City Stars. And finally he got good news last Friday.
The news came, actually, when he was asleep while visiting his parents in Canada. He had flown in hours earlier, taking a break before he had to be back for Stars practice. But the Jazz, who had just signed him to a two-way contract — effectively splitting his time between the G League and the NBA — needed him to fly to Utah right away.
“My dad woke me up — he said my agent was calling,” Mitrou-Long said. “At first, I was like, ‘Are you serious?’ I couldn’t really believe that.”
Believe it: The rookie out of Iowa State is now traveling with the Jazz as an emergency guard. He has appreciated the chance to work again with the Jazz coaching staff, travel on chartered flights and sit courtside in big arenas (he hasn’t played meaningful minutes yet).
And yet with the Stars, Mitrou-Long felt he had a great opportunity to grow. As a Cyclone, he was somewhat limited to a spot-up shooter. In the G League, he was encouraged to try to be a more complete player.
“Now I’m finally back to my ways of creating plays for others, playing more point guard, having a knack on the defensive end,” he said. “I think I’ve taken pride in taking big steps in those areas.”
Of course being able to take a roster spot always comes at the cost of someone else. In this case, it was Nate Wolters, who was cut the day before Mitrou-Long was signed.
But it wasn’t as though Mitrou-Long was hoping Wolters would be cut, and now that the decision has been made, he says he doesn’t feel awkward about it.
“I’m not someone to watch anyone else’s lane,” he said. “I’m always a supportive individual and try to control what I can control, which is getting better every day.”
Mitrou-Long saw his first regular season action on Tuesday night, scoring the first 3-pointer of his career. But he also took a bump: Nuggets forward Trey Lyles butted heads with him, opening a gash over his left eye that required nine stitches.
Afterward, Mitrou-Long still sported a smile in the locker room and told teammates he was all right.
“Just trying to make plays,” he said. “Just hustle.”