Walker Kessler shows why his NIL deal didn’t become an NBA partnership

How ’Bout This Jazz newsletter: The star rookie was a pitchman for Dunkaroos snack cookies while at Auburn. Plus, Lauri Markkanen discusses his own dunks, and Ochai Agbaji talks about that block.

Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler dunks against the Golden State Warriors during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The more that rookie center Walker Kessler continues to break out for the Utah Jazz, the more we continue to learn about him.

For instance: Did you know that, while starring at Auburn, he got a name, image and likeness deal with Dunkaroos? Yup, the prodigious dunker was sponsored by the Betty Crocker-branded snack cookie which comes with frosting dip.

The 21-year-old absolutely lit up when asked about it.

“My agency kind of said, ‘Hey, man, you interested in like doing a Dunkaroos deal?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, man! It’s a famous ‘90s snack!’” said Kessler, who was born in 2001. “I got a whole bunch of Dunkaroos snacks, got these custom Dunkaroos shoes, a Dunkaroos bucket hat, Dunkaroos fanny pack. It was pretty cool.”

Asked why the partnership wasn’t continued into his NBA career, the 7-footer laughed and joked, “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on with their marketing team!”

It could be that while he’s an enthusiastic marketer, he accidentally revealed himself to be perhaps a less-than-adept pitchman.

“I tried one of those packages — I mean, it was the most sugar-filled thing I’ve ever had in my life,” he exclaimed.

What, it’s not a dietary option conductive to an NBA career?

“Not at all. Or for my life career!” he joked. “I probably would die at 30 if I had a whole package of those!”

Told that such comments were probably not what Betty Crocker had in mind when they paid him, Kessler paused a moment, got a sheepish smile, then faux-backtracked.

“Well … they’re great!” he concluded between laughs. “I mean, it tasted … Yeah, let’s cut that one out!”

Markkanen’s dunking, too

Lauri Markkanen is doing plenty of dunking, too, though not the kind that involves icing dip.

The All-Star candidate with his own bit of ’90s nostalgia has already shattered his career high for single-season dunks, and we’re not even to the All-Star break yet. Per his NBA.com “shot type summary,” he already has 78 slams this season — obliterating his previous high of 63, which came in his rookie season back in 2017-18.

He had a particularly nice one Wednesday night, driving the lane, cocking the ball back to avoid the block attempt from Clippers center Ivica Zubac, then throwing it down.

Even he has been surprised by how many he’s been getting.

“Just trying to go up strong and finish, I guess. I have no better explanation for you!” he said.

He added that he has made it a point to try and be more aggressive going to the rim rather than always settling for jumpers, trying to be strong and at least earn free throws if nothing else, rather than going for finesse. He’s also learned now to jump off two feet, rather than just his left. Oh, and also, it definitely helps being 7 feet tall.

“I’m noticing it’s pretty fun to dunk,” he said, deadpan. “I’ll try to do more of that.”

On the highlight reels or on a poster

Ochai Agbaji did not originally anticipate pulling off the defensive play of the game Wednesday night when he stuffed Amir Coffey’s dunk attempt.

After Collin Sexton had a pass picked off by the Clippers’ Moussa Diabate, who then threw the ball ahead to Coffey, Agbaji acknowledged he had “kind of a late reaction as far as getting back,” and just hoped to be able to “go chase it down and put a wall up at the rim.”

Thing was, he was anticipating Coffey would just try to lay it in, so he wanted to make it difficult. But when the Clippers forward rose with two hands on the ball, the burgeoning Jazz rookie suddenly realized he was about to end up posterized if he didn’t adjust.

“I was like, ‘OK, now I actually gotta go up in the air and I gotta block it or I’m about to get dunked on,’” Agbaji recalled thinking. “Like, ‘All right, I gotta at least try to block it so he just doesn’t slam it on me.’”

While numerous teammates have admired the former Kansas star’s athletic ability, even he wasn’t sure if he could get there to stop it.

Asked if he was surprised that he did, Agbaji didn’t bother to deny it: “A little bit, yeah!”