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Texas Tech’s Matt Mooney, Syracuse’s Tyus Battle among prospects who want to show they can play defense in Jazz workout

Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney celebrates after making a three-point basket during the second half against Michigan State in the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, April 6, 2019, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Matt Mooney knows defense.

He was a part of the Texas Tech team that made it to the NCAA Championship game last month, the one that pushed Virginia to overtime before succumbing to the more talent-filled bunch. Even more than the Cavaliers, the Red Raiders relied on a physical, tough defense to survive and advance through the tournament: Texas Tech led the country in the 2018-19 season with an 81.2 adjusted defensive rating. It wasn’t quite enough against the No. 4 defensively-ranked Cavaliers, who also were much better offensively.

If that sounds familiar, it should. That’s essentially the story of the Utah Jazz of recent seasons: elite league-best defense that wasn’t enough to balance out an only average offense against the country’s best teams. While Mooney wouldn’t help that problem, he’d contribute to the team’s defensive ethos.

“At Texas Tech, that was our identity and that became my identity a little bit. Definitely at the next level, I want to bring that toughness at defense, wherever I play, hopefully in the NBA. You know I think Utah is a team that plays defense, plays hard, and embodies that same thing.”

Mooney’s not only a defender, obviously. He scored a game-high 22 points against Michigan State in the Final Four, rallying Texas Tech to the championship game. He’s a crafty, jack-of-all-trades scorer. But because of limited athleticism and his age (a graduate transfer, Mooney is already 24), he’s more likely to find himself as a summer league invite than called in New York at the NBA Draft.

Still, that profile was enough to make him an intriguing matchup for the other five prospects who worked out for the Utah Jazz at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus on Wednesday. Tyus Battle, T.J. Gibbs, Mamadi Diakite, Dewan Hernandez, and Brandon Randolph were the other five. All five weren’t made available to media as they could potentially return to school in the fall.

Of note, Battle might be the best prospect of the bunch, ranked No. 68 on Sports Illustrated’s NBA Draft board. As with all Syracuse prospects, after spending his career in a zone, there are questions as to how he’ll defend at the NBA level.

“He showed us that he could play some defense,” Walt Perrin, Jazz vice president of player personnel, explained.

While he scored well the last two years with the Orange, he didn’t show it in a big way during the draft workout. "I don’t think he shot the ball extremely well. I know he can shoot a little bit better. Tyus is the type of guy, in more of a five on five situation, that’s able to get shots and to get into the lane. In a three on three it’s a little tougher sometimes.”

Among other prospects, Hernandez found himself essentially forced to pursue the NBA Draft after the NCAA ruled him ineligible to play in 2018-19 and large parts of the 2019-20 season for agreeing to terms with an agent while still playing in the technically amateur-only college basketball. Hernandez, a 6-11 big man, averaged 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds in 2017-18 for the Miami Hurricanes.

Diakite makes his mark as an energy big off the bench for most of the season for Virginia, before moving into the starting lineup in the NCAA tournament. In the six games they played in the tournament, Diakite made an impact defensively, with six blocks.

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